Queen and Slim is classic Black love cinema folks will celebrate for years to come, much like Love Jones, or my favorite growing up, Love and Basketball. The story line itself isn’t particularly different, but because the story is told from a Black perspective (obviously) it adds dimension to the story that honestly, makes it a great one. There is a lot to appreciate in this film, everything from the lighting and framework that would easily allow the film to be paused at any given moment and still look like a beautifully curated photo, to the chemistry between the film’s leading roles, Daniel Kaluuya as Slim and Jodie Turner-Smith as Queen; however the most intriguing aspect of this movie is the perfectly placed nods and easter eggs honoring our history, our legacy, and our identities as Black folks.
I’ve broken down some take-always to better understand the film and hopefully point out some of the things you may not have realized. This post includes ideas and thoughts that can only be explained by knowing what happens in the movie. It’s safe to read for now, but this is your warning—there are spoilers ahead so if you haven’t seen the movie, read at your own risk…
The story begins in Cleveland on a bad Tinder date that quickly turns to the worst. After a short dinner filled with eye rolling and witty sarcasm, we flash to the car ride home when our leading roles get stopped by the police and end up killing the officer who pulled them over in self-defense. As we learn on their date, Queen is a lawyer and quickly puts things in perspective, concluding they must run. This alone is a defining moment in the film because if Queen and Slim were not Black, would this be their only option?
Slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the BLM Movement
Perhaps the most prominent of the symbolism used in Queen and Slim is its’ direct correlation to slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the Black Lives Matter movement. What’s cool about the premise is it IS the typical Black storyline we are used to seeing –Black people running for their freedom; however, it’s done in a way to honor and validate the major movements Black people started and experience in this country.
The story non-coincidentally starts in Cleveland, Ohio. This is significant because Ohio is known for being the final stop on the Underground Railroad as it houses The Ohio River, or as slaves called it, the River Jordan. Cleveland is noted for having corruption embedded in its police department, much like Ferguson, and it is also where 12 year old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police officer Timothy Loehmann for playing with a toy gun on the playground. The film was also released November 27, 2019, 5 days after the 5 year anniversary of Rice’s death. We also see elements of the BLM movement during the protest scene, which although shocking, speaks to the anger in the Black community and the immense confusion that comes with living as a Black person in America.
From Cleveland, we see the couple escape to New Orleans, then Georgia, then finally to Florida, all common routes and stops along the Underground Railroad, and please note they traveled backwards from North to South. They stayed at safe houses, relied on word of mouth, and at one point hide to hide in the floorboards. They traveled with many of the conditions runaway slaves were forced to deal with– no money, no maps, no allies, no peace—nothing, but each other. Even the bar where Queen and Slim had their second date was called The Underground and while in the bar, they were recognized and celebrated, but most importantly, they were safe. The movie also showcases a vivid illustration of the similarities among the police and slave catchers, and how the justice system keeps slavery alive.
Say Their Names
Throughout the film, Queen and Slim never use each other’s names, in fact no one does. While watching the film, I remember thinking wait, what are their names again? This speaks to the characters relatability. I remember after the Trayvon trial, President Obama gave a speech where he explained how he saw himself in Trayvon and if he had a son, he would probably look like him. The fact is, every time these senseless acts of police brutality happen we see our family, our friends and ourselves in the lives lost. This also sadly, speaks to the interchangeability of the names we associate with deserving justice from police brutality. It is not until the end, after they die, we learn the lead characters’ names of Ernest Hinds and Angela Johnson. This is to highlight the lack of identity and validity Black folks experience every day and how often times we are valued in death more than in life. I also find it fitting that world never found out what really happened the night they got pulled over. Their side of the story never existed.
Loving While Black
We are so conditioned to seeing Black families portrayed as dysfunctional and difficult to love, it is invigorating when we see ourselves depicted in a different way. Queen and Slim beautifully illustrated how significant Black love is for our families, our communities, and ultimately our culture. We see hints of this through the movie, like the line about building your man up to feel like a king in his home, as well as the scene when Slim popped Queen’s shoulder back into place with care, encouragement, and strength, but it is most visible at the end upon their capture.
As they arrive at the plane, walking to board, the police pull up behind them. In synchronization, they turn around, take each other’s hands, and face the music. This scene shows the strength and bravery of their Blackness, as well as the sacrifice and dedication of their love and how powerful these elements are when combined. Queen built her man up to be his legacy. She had all the ideas, she guided the journey, hell, she’s the one that decided to run in the first place. Had it not been for her, Slim would have been shot from the beginning. Slim protected his woman. He held her, took care of her when she was hurt, tired, and scared, and led them with her guidance, and that was illustrated in their deaths. She, being his legacy, and he, carrying her until his end, and at all costs, is the takeaway. That IS Black love.