The titular characters from the new film “Queen & Slim” are not the black Bonnie and Clyde. The pair doesn’t entirely fit into the “life of sin” trope by choice; the decision was forced upon them. They represent the oppression and racism Black people face in the United States. Written by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas, “Queen & Slim” successfully shows the complexity of being Black in today’s America.
The film inserts viewers into the lives of the main characters, Queen and Slim, played by Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith. The two meet for a Tinder date, and from the start, it’s apparent Queen and Slim are vastly different people. Queen comes off as outspoken and Slim a guy that goes with the flow.
Viewers are quickly launched into what is the catalyst for their relationship and the entire film. As Slim drives Queen home, they get pulled over. Blue and red flickering lights engulf the back windshield of the car. For Black people this scene brings about a specific feeling: fear. This is an experience they have had before. It’s a moment they prepare their children for, hoping the unthinkable will not happen. If you don’t know what that experience is, then consider your ignorance a privilege.
Slim began going through the motions. He started the act, announcing every hand movement, making sure his tone was polite and he was not giving the cops a reason to perceive him as a threat. These are the actions that help Black people stay alive, or so you’d hope.
Black bodies are not seen as valuable, and if a cop shoots one of them there will be no justice. That is what this country has taught Black people. Police can kill unarmed Black men, women and children with little to no consequences, aside from a paid leave of absence. Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland are just a few deaths that remind us of that. You can guess how the interaction between Queen, Slim and the cop ends. But Waithe complicates the usual narrative. The cop shoots Queen and after a struggle for the gun Slim shoots the cop in self defense.
Since the police officer dies, they decide to flee and leave the body where it fell, echoing how Mike Brown's body was left in the streets of Ferguson after he was killed by police. This is the beginning of the end. The ending of life as they know it and the beginning of their life on the run . Waithe brings in important historical references and relies on Black history to do so, specifically utilizing the Underground Railroad.
When slaves fled North to freedom, one of their last stops on the Underground Railroad was Cleveland — a city in the free state of Ohio — before beginning a new life in Canada. Queen and Slim, start their journey South in Cleveland. To escape, they rely on a “network” of people to get them to freedom which the pair decided was Cuba — like Assata Shakur who was convicted of killing a State Trooper in New Jersey. Although “free” is an interesting choice of words. As the couple tries to escape, they are reminded — even if they were “free” before, they were not really “free.”
Despite the heavy undertones, the film also tells a love story. As their situation escalates with trying to escape the police, the characters evolve from acquaintances to lovers. The movie is full of messages showing the complexities of what it means to be Black in America. I would love to share all the hidden messages, but that would ruin the story. What I will say is — not everyone who is trying to help wants to help you, even if they look like you.
“Queen & Slim” will be out in theaters on Nov. 27.