Why I Have a Love/Hate Relationship with Queen & Slim

Director: Melina Matsoukas
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya & Jodie Turner-Smith
Cinematographer: Tat Radcliffe

In her modern take on the classic Bonnie & Clyde story, director Melina Matsoukas gives special attention to the sensitivity of police brutality against black lives. Narratively speaking, it’s a fine concept to explore within film. However, the glorification of violence amidst a growing love is what makes Queen & Slim a frustratingly inconsiderate movie that just didn’t sit right with me despite a beautiful depiction of black love.

The story begins with a first date between the titular characters. Queen, the criminal defense attorney with a hard shell, explains that she’s coming from a bad workday after the state decided to execute her client. She also lets it slip that that’s the only reason she called Slim, her Tinder date who’s willing to give her too big of a pass, especially considering her attitude. And here it was, already off to a bad start: the angry black woman narrative.

Let me just start by saying that everyone is allowed to have a bad day. It’s almost inevitable in careers like law. Speaking as a scientist who works in a fast-paced, stressful environment on a daily basis, I get it. But an unwarranted attitude will always be frowned upon for me, and that’s what Queen gave. She is the epitome of the angry black woman trope that too often finds its way on screens. Not only that, why are successful women always represented as mean-spirited when in actuality, to get to advanced positions in such careers, being cordial and a “people-person” helps get us there? Historically, women (especially black women) are so much more than the attitudes people think we have. We are nurturers, providers, strong support systems, etc. So to see an intelligent woman not depicted as such was frustrating to say the least. Like I said… off to a bad start.

courtesy of Universal Pictures

As time progresses, Queen & Slim call it a night. As Slim drives her home, one innocent car swerve prompts a police officer to pull them over. One thing leads to the next, but unlike in the real world, an unarmed black person does not get shot. In the film, Slim shoots the cop in defense of Queen, initiating a long and traumatizing journey ahead for these two strangers.

Slowly but surely, the local citizens get word of Queen & Slim’s story through newspaper clips and a video feed of the incident, which gets plastered all over cable stations and the internet. Most people, predominantly in the black community, deem them heroes. While others are hesitant to believe their side of the story and give them any praise. But these are all realistic reactions that could happen in the real world, so it’s not why I have a love/hate relationship with the film.

My biggest issue with Matsoukas’ feature is how, once again, black movie-goers have to celebrate black love amidst tragedy, where a love grows from the trauma of two black individuals. There is nothing romantic about intertwining black love with protest, pain and death. It’s tasteless and serves no purpose other than to remind audiences that Hollywood has no idea what black love truly is. Sure, there’s no denying the chemistry between Kaluuya and Turner-Smith on screen, but when it’s wrapped up in trauma, how am I to take it seriously? It not only left a bad taste in mouth, but the fact that so many people enjoyed this lets me know that getting black love onscreen without trauma on a consistent basis is tragically light-years away.

courtesy of Universal Pictures

Another aspect of Queen & Slim that simply didn’t work for me was the dialogue. At one point in the film, Queen & Slim discuss Queen’s career which leads her to mention that she’s an excellent lawyer. To that, Slim replies “Why do black people always feel the need to be excellent? Why can’t we just be ourselves?” This conversation was probably one of the most frustrating ones (and there are many) in the entire film. Are black people not allowed to strive for excellence? Should mediocrity be the goal as a race? Being yourself should always come with a strive for greatness, as long as you remain true to who you are. The reality is, not everyone will reach their goals and dreams, but why does it have to be one or the other: excellence or “being yourself.” The conversation was just silly.

In short, there’s no denying that there are things to celebrate regarding Queen & Slim. Witnessing two beautiful, dark-skinned people fall in love is always just cause for celebration especially on the big screen. But why can’t stories like this ever be done without trauma? It’s tired and offensive. And audiences deserve better. 

Rating: ★★½

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