Updated: Jan 13
*THERE ARE SPOILERS ALL UP AND THROUGH HERE*
Queen and Slim….LAWD LAWD LAWD! Where do I even begin? How do I even begin to express the myriad of feelings in my soul about this film? My brotha Taiye said, “It hurts and feels good at the same time”. Even though I agree, what I feel just isn’t as concise to me. This movie was a fascinating and intimate look into how deep love can be transformative and help you connect to your higher purpose. I’m still intrigued and even inspired at how a seemingly failed Tinder date evolved into soulmates in 6 days that were compressed into 2hrs and 12 minutes. As I sat with the gravity of that I realized that was how so many of our ancestors were able to make it work just like Queen and Slim had to. Some of the deepest loves were forged out of the fire of fear for your life. We really need to explore and combat all of the forces that have worked to disrupt that crucial orientation towards making it work with each other.
This movie is polarizing. You will see many people tout it as the best film they had ever seen. Others would voice how unrealistic it was. Many more shared that they were tired of seeing black struggle love wrapped in trauma bonds. I get all of it! Another common point of conversation I saw on the interwebs was in regards to what Queen and Slim did wrong or stupidly along their fateful journey. From my perspective though, I’m ok with what they did wrong. We have bigger fish to fry in this film, but I will entertain that line of thought for a moment. Queen and Slim from the literal definition were criminals, but we knew they were not. Fleeing the law wasn’t their vibe in every day life. I wouldn’t expect them to always make the wisest choices in a race for their lives. It is easy for us to say what we would or would not do when sudden death or imprisonment is not actively chasing us.
While sitting in the theater before the movie started I posted on FB, “Currently at the movies to see Queen & Slim. Going again Friday. I feel like I will have a lot to say about this film”. When the movie ended I posted, “Queen & Slim….I have MUCH to say. Ima wait for a few more folks to see it before I spill my guts”. Welp, now is the time to spill my guts about the movie. Disclaimer: This isn’t a “think piece”, this is a “feel piece”. This write-up won’t have any of the social buzzwords du jour like “problematic” or “intersectionality”. I have no desire to deal with this movie on that level at this point. Perhaps as I sit more with this film over time I can dissect it in that way, but not today. Not now. I want to simmer in all of the emotions that this brings up first. I have the rest of my life to analyze this movie to shreds. I will let y’all have at that for now and I look forward to listening to what y’all have to say. I’ve read a few articles and thoughts about the movie. Many of which made valid points and expanded my view of the film. I’m just here to add a little sliver of my own views. I usually don’t go into movies with expectations outside of being entertained for a few hours. Hell, I usually don’t go to the movies so there’s that, but there was something about the imagery from the trailer that captured me. The use of the song “Giving Up” by Donny Hathaway was perfection. It completely drew me in. That song choice was apropos in capturing the passion and melancholy that would follow them on their journey. The lyrics of that song shed some light on things to come…..
“But my light of hope
Is burning dim
But in my heart I pray
That my love and faith
In the girl
Will bring her back some day”
I had to see it. The hints of Queen and Slim’s impact started to roll in as folks with early screenings shared their reactions. That made me even more excited. I bought tickets for the Friday show with a group of friends. I knew I was going to have a lot to say about this movie so I decided to also see it the day it opened. On November 27th I went to the theater alone after work. For 2hrs and 12 minutes I didn’t move. Shit, I barely breathed. The movie was visually stunning and the acting was captivating. The music was a character in itself. It sounded like something I would listen to on a long road trip. It was nostalgic and took the edge off of the fear of their journey. Besides the music there were other nostalgic elements at play. There were sprinkles of Love Jones, Jason’s Lyric, and Touki Bouki even though Queen and Slim has its own distinctive flavor. I took note of everything from the flawless lighting, the exquisitely masterful cinematography, and the endearing and simmering chemistry between Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith. As they fell in love with each other I became more and more enamored with them. Lena Waithe and Melina Matsoukas did an excellent job of making you fall in love with the pair. So when the bullets penetrated their bodies it penetrated my soul too. Then there was Junior. LAWD LAWD LAWD….Why was it necessary for him to shoot a cop in the face? A black cop at that! There was no value in that and it was completely unnecessary in my opinion. And then to juxtapose that with a love scene!?!?!?!? It was overwhelming, it was infuriating, it was horrifying, it was sexy, it was confusing, it was too fuckin’ much! I left the film inspired, angry, frustrated and sad. How could Lena and Melina do this to ME?! To US?! I read Brook Obie’s article, “Let’s Talk About The Ending of ‘Queen and Slim’: An Artful Wound With No Medicine”, and initially my views were very similar to hers. Screenwriter Lena Waithe actually responded on Twitter under the article saying, “We should have a convo about it. But totally understand your frustration”. I added my 2 cents and tweeted, “Frustration is putting it mildly. The impact was lost in their deaths. Every beautiful and vulnerable moment was erased the second their bodies hit the ground. I left the theater thinking….damn…we can’t have anything…but maybe that was the point.” I am not gonna front like Queen and Slim didn’t give me a lot, because it did, but after my first viewing I felt like it also took something away too. There was something specific that I needed from Queen and Slim that I didn’t receive. I had to constantly remind myself that this was fiction because I was so invested. The deaths of Queen and Slim and the tragedy of Junior’s act made me ask who exactly was this movie for and why? That Andre 3000 line kept resounding in my head, “I tell it how it is and I tell it how it could be”. In this social media age we tout the fact that we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams, but why aren’t our dreams ever wild? Why aren’t they expansive? Why do they always seem to be deferred or cut short prematurely? I think as making this film, if they would have taken their wildest dream for Queen and Slim and weaved it as we know they can, it would have been WAY more impactful than a shot in the heart, a bullet shower, a rushed funeral procession, a t-shirt, and a mural. But Waithe and Matsoukas chose to tell it how it is instead of telling it how it could be. That was a major let down for me and it took a lot of wind out of the sails.
I had a long conversation with my bestie about the film. What she helped me to discover is there is a lot of healing in the re-imagining of things. That conversation and my second viewing added some depth to my initial views tremendously. Instead of asking “why” as I did after the first viewing I started asking “how”. How can I use their story to live a fuller, deeper, richer life? Because despite it all, it was a powerful story. Queen and Slim just can’t die in vain. Before they became Queen and Slim, they were Angela and Ernest. Angela and Ernest didn’t seem like risk takers. They seemed like they played it safe all of their lives. But in those 6 days on the run they lived spontaneously, fully, vulnerably, and with complete trust in each other. They found themselves with each other and in each other. There is a lot that we can learn from that.
To the establishment, Black love is a dangerous weapon because it makes us courageous. The entire movie you heard the media calling them “armed and dangerous”. When we love each other with complete trust and vulnerability we ARE armed and dangerous (to the establishment). Not armed in the sense of weapons though. Armed with love, purpose, and legacy. I read Obie’s, “Let’s Talk About The Ending of ‘Queen and Slim’: An Artful Wound With No Medicine”, article again and again until I realized that Queen and Slim aren’t the medicine. Many of the viewers (me) wanted them to be, but for some reason Lena and Melina did not. Queen and Slim were the surgery. They sliced open our viscus and exposed our triggers. I was frustrated because we really didn’t need the movie to do that to and for us. The media already does that. The onus is on us to administer the medicine where we need it most. WE, the viewers and the commentators, are the healing balm we are looking for. We have to be. I wonder if there’s an alternate ending. I’m curious to see the various ways Waithe and Matsoukas decided to end this tale. I guarantee it’s not better than my ending though!
In my ending, Queen and Slim weren’t sold out by the Florida fuck boy. They made it safely to Cuba on that plane. As soon as they hit the ground a network of radical organizations moved Queen and Slim deep into the mountains. Queen soon discovers that she is pregnant. Fast-forward we see Queen’s protruding belly and there is a wedding ceremony in a rainforest. It’s being officiated by Mother Assata Shakur who has taken the two under her wing, showing them the ins and outs of living in obscurity. Fast-forward Queen is in labor. She delivers a beautiful, strong baby girl. Her name is Legacy. Cue the credits. I hope reading that provided some healing for us all because writing it certainly did. Let’s continue to be the medicine. We are as much a part of the legacy as they are.