Queen and Slim begins in a diner in Ohio, where a black female lawyer, Queen (Jodie Turner Smith) makes an admission. She admits to her date Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) – a black man – that her only means of having a social life is through Tinder. That bad first date turns worse when they leave the diner and a white police officer stops their vehicle, an encounter that doesn’t look good. They both leave the car despite the officer’s commands that only Slim leave the car, which makes the officer irrationally shoot Queen. The officer and Slim reach for the gun, where the latter kills the former. Queen knows that the law isn’t kind to cop killers, and they flee the scene.
Screenwriter Lena Waithe and director Melina Matsoukas are trying to make a point with Queen and Slim. It’s a point that most critics and audiences, including myself, agree with. Institutional violence against black Americans is a cloud that somehow unites both black people and their white allies. Queen’s words don’t hint at a second date, but they do discuss reasons why she chose him for a first date. They eventually become a bickering romantic couple because of a violent act against them. White versions of Queen and Slim do not get to experience such constraints.
Queen and Slim also shows how such constraints lead to irrational choices. The white officer’s violent act itself springs from his irrational hatred towards black people. This, by the way, is something many white police officers have. These irrational psychology mostly affects both Queen and Slim. Their choice not to fight their case in court is rational, knowing how the justice system screws people over. But a road trip that normally takes two days takes them six. Straying from their timeline is their way of freeing themselves from constraints, doing things in case they don’t make their final destination. Instead of going to their destinations directly they make stops, like visiting Queen’s mom’s final resting place.
But maybe I’m just making excuses for this movie, which explores the wrong things within its characters’ trajectories. They can’t use their phones, understandably, but they didn’t steal a map from that gas station they robbed. Their trip from Ohio to New Orleans takes a day but New Orleans to Miami takes five because of one delay after another. It’s not fun to watch self-sabotage. Both legs of the trip also pass by Alabama, a mostly black state with a white government. Somehow the movie doesn’t explore that and instead they make a stop to ride a horse or have car sex. This movie needed to be half an hour shorter.
One can argue this movie as an entry into the post-Blaxploitation sub-genre. Both post-Blaxploitation and its golden age predecessors have movies with deliberate paces, slightly slower than crime films with white casts. But this movie is slower than the ones it’s referencing so much that it seems sedate. This contrasts too heavily with its fever dream logic. It also has the most confusing needle drops since Joker, using an eclectic soundtrack which is better on its own and doesn’t fit with the movie. What’s worse that these clashing elements its its presentation of its cynical values. Those values make this movie a retrograde vision of rebellion against white institutions.
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