Movie Review: 'Queen & Slim'

Queen & Slim

World Socialist Website - December 14, 2019

Directed by Melina Matsoukas; written by Lena Waithe, from a story by Waithe and James Frey

Queen & Slim is the debut feature film of Melina Matsoukas. Written by Lena Waithe, from a story by Waithe and James Frey, it concerns an incident involving two young black people and a racist white policeman. The pair are forced to go on the run. Most of the film is taken up with their underground flight, leading to a bloody denouement.

The movie draws from and relies on aspects of reality—the epidemic of police violence and killings disproportionately affecting the black population—to create a broader, substantially mythological picture and to justify a definite strand of rabid, self-aggrandizing racial politics. Significantly, the New York Times is aggressively promoting Matsoukas’s film.

On a wintry Cleveland evening, a criminal defense attorney, Angela “Queen” Johnson (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Ernest “Slim” Hines (Daniel Kaluuya), a retail worker, are out on a first date, when Slim, whose car sports the license plate “TRUSTGOD,” is pulled over for a supposed traffic violation. The white cop draws his gun on Slim and shoots Queen in the leg when she tries to phone-record his brutality. Slim then wrestles the weapon from the officer, fatally shooting the latter in self-defense.

Knowing the odds against being treated fairly by the authorities, the couple flee. It is not long before they are branded as cop killers on the national news. After stealing a pick-up truck from an off-duty sheriff, they make their way south toward New Orleans, where they plan to seek help from Queen’s estranged Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine). He is a pimp and an emotionally crippled Iraq war veteran who killed Queens’ mother, his sister, in an altercation. Oddly, he was his lawyer niece’s first client!

At Earl’s home, Queen and Slim change their appearance. Despite the new, “funkier” and “sexier” guises, their images have gone viral, making more improbable a successful journey to their final destination of Cuba. The couple, however, do win the respect and admiration of many black people they meet along the way as they travel the back roads of Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana. In fact, the duo decide to pay a visit to a Louisiana juke joint whose patrons hail them as heroes.

The film cannot resist various absurdities. Queen and Slim take time out from evading their presumably murderous pursuers for some steamy roadside sex, which the filmmakers clumsily intercut with scenes of a demonstration in the outlaws’ defense. Other notable scenes include Queen coaxing Slim to mount a horse because “nothing scares a white man more than seeing a black man on a horse … cause he has to look up at him.” It’s not clear how many such opportunities are likely to arise in Slim’s life.

In addition, the couple’s travels are peppered with bits of philosophizing: “Why do black people always have to be excellent?” asks Slim, “Why can’t we just be normal?” Nor should one leave out the moment when Queen exclaims: “It should be a sin to call a black woman crazy.”

At one point, she describes her perfect man: “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.”

The final shots immortalize Queen and Slim, the “black Bonnie and Clyde,” living on as neighborhood graffiti.

There are many problems with Queen & Slim, as a description of its basic outline should already indicate. The initial episode with the policeman and the everyday threat of state violence it brings out have the ring of truth. 2018 marked the fifth year in a row that police killed more than 1,000 people in the United States. And racist, fascistic police are undoubtedly a fact of life.

However, relatively little of what takes place subsequently is rooted in reality. Nor does the film adopt a consistently anti-establishment or “radical” social standpoint. Queen & Slim does not express opposition, for example, to the police as enforcers of capitalist rule. African-American cops in the movie perform more humanely than their white counterparts when they confront demonstrators and, in one scene, a sympathetic black officer helps the couple escape.

The implication that only black people are shot by the police in the US is false. As the WSWS has noted, “In 2017, according to the Washington Post, 987 people were shot and killed by the police. … Racial demographics included 475 white non-Hispanic victims (48.2 percent), 231 black victims (23.4 percent) and 209 Hispanic victims (21.2 percent).” ...
Read full review at World Socialist Website

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