Wow. A lot to unpack here. Queen & Slim (2019) is a film with themes that are unfortunately too familiar: the story of two, young, Black Americans brutalized by police.
When the film ended, I looked up the recent timeline of Black deaths caused by police. I read their names and remembered when I first heard their stories —— Trayvon Martin. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Breonna Taylor… A list so extensive and a pattern so monstrous that it is truly abhorrent.
I thought about how our national spotlight on Black Lives Matter and police brutality may have shaped Queen & Slim. As a white woman, I have never been brutalized, harassed, berated, or discriminated against because of the color of my skin. To support those who have, I can educate myself and get involved with initiatives trying to repair this disgrace, but, I can never truly understand the rage and despair this community has had to carry for centuries.
The creators of Queen & Slim saw these barriers, but they also recognized that great storytelling can magnify empathy and alter minds. They were able to create a visceral, heartfelt, and honest piece of art here. It made me feel. It made me think. It revealed the complicated layers that weave beneath this centuries-long narrative.
(Also, the soundtrack was pretty legit and there were some abstract scene + dialogue combinations peppered throughout.)
Queen & Slim begins as ordinarily as any other film. Two people who met on Tinder are having an uncomfortable and incompatible first date. Jodie Turner-Smith (aka Queen) is clearly an unhappy person. She’s snarky, rude, blunt, and sometimes just straight up mean. I admire her character’s fire, but I definitely wasn’t her biggest fan.
They say that great characters are never purely good or purely evil. That’s not human. We are all a complicated mixture of love and hate, hope and joylessness, courage and fear. For Queen, a big part of her darkness lived in her own assumptions and stereotypes. Within the first half hour of the film, Queen had already implied her date was broke, a criminal, and/or a gang banger. Watching her talk down to Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) was upsetting, but more importantly, it was deeply thought-provoking.
Slim, of course, is nothing like any of the stereotypes Queen labels him with. He doesn’t drink or smoke, he is religious, and he is close to his family. He is more cerebral and pensive, and also much happier.
What’s interesting about the names Queen and Slim is that the characters are never referred to with those names in the film. Queen’s name is Angela and Slim’s name is Earnest. Internet moviephiles speculate that the names Queen and Slim in the title reference the character’s Tinder profile names, although we never really find out if that is the case.
As the pair leaves the diner and begins on their way home, they are pulled over by a police officer. The officer escalates the situation, and the events quickly spin out of control. Fast forward and Queen is now on the ground, shot in the leg. Next to her is the officer, shot dead by Slim in self defense.
Stunned and afraid, Queen and Slim argue over what to do next. Slim wants to call 911 and turn themselves in. Queen presents a forceful rebuttal, convincing Slim that doing so would either get them killed or locked up for life. And so, their Bonnie & Clyde story begins.
As Queen & Slim went about their escape, I found myself periodically yelling at the TV. “Hide the car in the back of the house!” “Don’t call your Dad!” “This is NOT the time to try riding a horse!”
I’ve watched my share of crime movies and TV shows, so I of course assume that I’ve absorbed heightened police evasion skills. In my expert forensic/crime experience, they were doing it all wrong. But, to be fair, the real purpose of those events was to evolve the relationship of these two characters. So, towards that end, I’ll let my irrational anxiety fade.
This film had a lot of heartbreaking moments, but far more inspiring and powerful ones. One of the best for me was watching people from all walks of life coming together in solidarity to support these two strangers. Once the police dashcam footage goes viral, the country understands the significance of what took place with these outlaws, and it sparks a movement. Sound familiar?
Without giving away too much about the plot, I will also add that the visceral reflections of Black Lives Matter and the parallels to our current social turmoil were not only well done, but brought to life on deeper levels through the characters eyes. Throughout their escape, Queen & Slim go on individual journeys of self-realization, dealing with the scars of their past, and inadvertently embodying the voice of a generation.
This film is both a confrontation and a reflection. I won’t reveal much more about the plot so you can experience the passion and power for yourself. I will simply end with my favorite quote, from Queen, which sums up something we all deal with: scars, demons, and finding our own inner strength:
“I want a guy to show me myself. I want him to love me so deeply that I’m not afraid to show how ugly I can be. I want him to show me scars I never knew I had. But I don’t want him to make them go away, I want him to hold my hand while I nurse them myself. And I want him to cherish the bruises they leave behind.”