The beauty and pain of being Black in America are woven into every scene in the Lena Waithe — Melina Matsoukas masterpiece, Queen & Slim.
Like fine art created by a master, the nuance of colors, settings, and of course casting were the oils and canvas of this storyteller. It is not often that I am taken on a journey not of my planning, but that is exactly what happened as I sat in the theater only to be catapulted into the lives of Queen (portrayed by Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya).
The brilliance of the movie is the scenes that could have easily morphed into a romantic comedy. A Tinder first date gone bad would have easily become comedy fodder had the couple been afforded the same opportunity as white people driving home from dinner in a white Honda with “TrustGod” license plates. But alas, Waithe stayed true to the outcome that is an everyday occurrence for Black people, the reality that reaching any destination safely means that you have no reason to be in the sightline of the predators in blue that roam the street with a license to stop, frisk and kill. And in the blink of an eye, while I was smiling ruminating on disastrous first dates I had experienced the smile was wiped off my face with the woop…woop of the dreaded siren and flashing red lights.
The brilliance of the movie is the scenes that could have easily morphed into a romantic comedy.
Melina Matsoukas captured the angst and Turner-Smith the anger experienced by any black woman in the passenger seat watching the re-enactment of overseer to field hand. As the moments roll by anger boils to barely suppressed rage and the two who only moments before had decided never to see each other again are now bound by circumstances that neither could foresee.
The beauty in the evolution of love in the most devastating situation is a testament to the artfully executed storytelling that like life, love can distract us from the pressures of the day to capture the moments that we can manage. It is in these moments that we are forced to ignore the presentiment of danger and embrace the familiar…the smell of fish frying, the discord, and love of family, the camaraderie of Black society when we recognize we are all bound by the sameness and response to our complexion; the sound of blues and the smell of a juke joint thick with sweat, cologne, alcohol, and lust. It is in this juke joint swaying that we began to fall in love, and once again the viewer is pulled into an emotional response that forces the recollection of the moments when a first date, becomes a second date…becomes more.
The beauty in the evolution of love in the most devastating situation is a testament to the artfully executed storytelling that like life, love can distract us from the pressures of the day to capture the moments that we can manage.
Now, this is the point of difficulty, this is the point of no return when the reality that sometimes, oftentimes, love is not enough. Had this romance had the opportunity to play out as in When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle or so many other romance movies it would have been with anticipation that I watched the remainder of the movie. Instead, my stomach tightened in dread and I nodded my head in recognition of the little Black boy who had been radicalized by witnessing the brutality against Black People by the licensed Thugs in blue that roam our neighborhoods. His anger and understanding didn’t make him aspire to become like Dr. King, as in prior generations. Nor did it inspire a desire for him to become an attorney or community activist, instead he aspired to become a hashtag…an immortal. Even as Queen & Slim continued to try and dissuade him, even insisting that they were not a Cause célèbre, the young man and many others felt differently. We were given a glimpse from the viewpoint of a child who has read about Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland and many, many, more. We were made to see the irony of the hashtag and made to wonder about our children and their children….as have all the generations before us. The social complexity of love, hatred, anger, and race cannot be interchanged they are woven together in filaments entwined in our psyche like Queen’s fingers entwined in Slim’s a metaphor for so much more.
Each time we are confronted with a new character we wonder at their true motives, their true intents. When Queen states that betrayal may come at the hands of someone Black, although I wanted to push back; I could only sigh in acknowledgment of the truth of the self-loathers. I recognized him immediately and although I did, there was a huge part of me that chided myself and remained optimistic. I will not spoil the outcome but I will end by telling you that the gamut of emotions that I experienced and left me shaken for several days is a tribute to an artist and the masterstrokes of storytelling and filmmaking that like Queen & Slim will be hailed as a masterful symbol of the resilience of Black people. This story is not new, just like the brutality of Black people by police. What’s new is that it is now being filmed and told by us, about us.