Sitting in Collins Cinema, I felt a familiar rush of anxiety wash over me. As a black person, I always have to prepare myself before watching movies like “Queen & Slim.” Although the trailer foreshadowed the scenes of police brutality in the film, The scenes and events, although cinematically powerful, pose a threat of emotional heartache that is too real to watch with ease.
Beyond preparing for the emotionally laborious scenes of violence against black people, my expectations for the movie were slim. I am not a huge movie snob and was unfamiliar with anyone involved in creating the movie. This ignorance regarding the movie’s production allowed for a full-body reaction to the film. However, police brutality is only part of the story. The significance of the run-in with the cop is completely and purposefully overshadowed. Even though the lethal encounter with the truculent police officer catalyzes this couple’s journey across America, it is not, by any means, what birthed the journey.
I believe that this is what the director, Malina Matsoukas, wanted to emphasize. In order to showcase the couple’s story, the initial violent scene actually precedes the opening credits of the movie. Matsoukas creates a literal divide between the event and the journey that follows. The movie is riddled with beautiful and poignant symbolism similar to this. The cinematography perfectly depicts the six-day journey of the couple, showing the beauty and ruins of the industrial American Midwest and South throughout all hours of the day. The sexual and racial diversity of the cast and crew is seen and felt, but not tokenized. This movie is one with some proper diversity, period. Overall, the culmination of the acting and beauty of the movie is breathtaking. I can only sing praises for this film.
However, for the entire 132 minutes that is “Queen & Slim,” I was overwhelmed with stress and anxiety. I, myself, am a self-proclaimed empath.. Any movie that attempts to target racism and police brutality within the Black Lives Matter movement immediately strikes a chord for me. Screenplay writer Lena Waithe did an incredible job ensuring that “Queen & Slim” does not merely narrate the issues of police brutality. By not focusing on the physical acts of brutality, Waithe eliminates the force and influence that police brutality has over the characters. The black people of rural America that see this wanted couple simply nod towards them and the black youth who look up to them and protest injustice are the people who truly elongate their journey. This movie is genuinely filmed through the eyes of black people across the nation. “Queen & Slim” portrays the perspectives of people like me who are all too familiar with racism enacted by those in positions of power. It is a tragic telling of something that could happen, as well as how black people would react.
Movies highlighting racism and police brutality have become cliché, not because the stories are no longer important to tell, but because the racism, brutality and injustice in each story is nothing new. The oppression is as old as the nation. Unfortunately, so are the sad endings that come with these cinematic tropes. To have anything but a painful conclusion would be too fictional. Too unrealistic to even appreciate. However, to combat the predictability of stories like this, Lena Waithe takes you through the plot with the couple. With every mistake the couple makes, you feel a sense of unending doom looming over you, darkening your hopes of their freedom every second. Several times throughout the film, my friend and I would look at each other and mutter that they need to keep moving. You, as the viewer, become equally as invested and stressed as the characters themselves, all while expecting a sad ending. The juxtaposition of that liveliness and burgeoning love you feel, all while knowing “better,” is exhausting. By the end of the movie, I was beside myself with tears and tiredness. Stories such as these are not the ones that are meant to make us feel particularly good inside. But they do make us feel phases of highs and lows — a true conglomerate of emotion. Black storytelling is a (hidden) key component of American art. It should be respected and shared, especially when it does not shy away from giving hard to swallow, unsatisfying endings. Happy Black History Month, go watch “Queen & Slim.”