By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
“Queen & Slim” is a story about a Black couple on the run who find themselves in an untenable position shortly after their first date. They are driving along and Slim had briefly passed his cell phone to Queen. She starts being nosey, as some women are wont to do, and he snatches the phone, causing the car to swerve a bit.
And, of course, seconds later, a Cleveland, Ohio, police officer stops the car. The cop’s initial reason for stopping Slim was no signal at a previous turn and that he suspected that Slim was under the influence. The “no turn signal” excuse made me think immediately of the late Sandra Bland, the Naperville, Illinois, woman who met her death at the hands of Texas police officers after a similar traffic stop—although they claimed that Bland committed suicide. An argument ensues, and Queen, who is a criminal defense attorney, questions the officer after he trains his gun on Slim. The officer shoots Queen in the leg, and Slim kills the officer, setting in motion their run from authorities.
Their travels take them from Cleveland to New Orleans, where Queen’s Uncle Earl, who is played by Bokeem Woodbine with so much “pimposity” that it’s sickening, helps them to their next destination. They ultimately look to escape to Cuba, via Miami.
Their actions are revered within the Black communities in which they travel. They are given folklore status, with some thinking they are Black Panthers. A bar scene in the south, possibly Florida or Georgia, finds them welcomed in a sea of older, blues-loving patrons who are just looking to have a good time. These are just testaments to the fact that Black folks are tired of being slaughtered by those paid to protect them. The community’s embrace of the couple further affirms this film as a homage to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. And although we know that Queen and Slim are the lead characters, their names are never mentioned. They are played by Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya, both British actors.
The film is based on a screenplay by Chicago native Lena Waithe, the woman behind the Showtime series “The Chi.” And incidentally, one of the producers James Frey, reportedly upon whose idea the film was based, also has a Chicago connection.
In 2003, Frey wrote a book “A Million Little Pieces,” and parts of his sensational storytelling were later discovered to be exaggerated or fabricated. Subsequently, in 2006, he had to eat crow and confess his literary sins on Oprah’s show—because she had raved about his book for her book club.
There have been these complaints and more in the Black community—with some folks liking the film and others not finding it to their tastes—particularity because British actors were cast.
Whatever others may think, I enjoyed most of the film, as we watched as two people who may not have embarked on a second date are thrust into a desperate situation where they need to depend upon one another in order to survive. Their vulnerabilities are laid open, and in the end they can say that they were able to grow closer and find peace within each other’s arms.
“Queen & Slim,” which has a cool soundtrack that includes songs from Lauryn Hill, Luther Vandross, Raphael Saadiq, and the hit ‘Collide,’ performed by EarthGang and Tiana Major9, is playing in theaters everywhere.