It cries in the middle of the night because it's dark and quiet houses often make the loudest noises. It unearths the buried treasures and all the secrets that Pandora's box holds. It talks to us - out LOUD, and at times, we answer back. It makes life worth living and death unbearably cold. It has us singing, “how did you get here,” clearly an uninvited guest, but one that we’re glad showed up anyway.
Quoting a line from Lauryn Hill’s newly-released Guarding the Gates, a song found on the Queen and Slim movie soundtrack, “What a tragedy, you can laugh at me, but I’m in love.”
Written by Lena Waithe, Queen and Slim is the debut feature by music video and television virtuoso Melina Matsoulas. Starring British actors Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya, Queen and Slim is a long song following the odyssey of a couple who will soon become fallen cultural heros.
*Note: Spoilers ahead*
Queen, an attorney, decides to finally respond to Slim’s three-week-old Tinder message for some much-needed company after her client is sentenced to death. As the two head on their way, they are pulled over by an overzealous white cop who wishes to search Slim’s car, and he obliges.
Things escalate quickly when Queen decides to get out of the car and demands the officer’s badge number. With Queen and Slim now out of the car, the angry cop shoots Queen in the leg after she tells him that she has her cell phone and the right to record the incident. A struggle ensues between Slim and the officer, causing the cop’s gun to slip away. Slim is forced to make a decision between his life and that of the cop -- and in self-defense, he chooses his own. Instead of turning themselves in afterward, however, the non-couple opts for a life on the run.
Their initial chemistry was not a match made in heaven. In fact, their first date appeared like it was going to be their last. Queen is political, atheist, closed off, vocal, and has an invisible wall up. She somewhat gives the “Angry Black Woman” trope, but she is also conservative. After living with her traumatic family backstories, “love” for Queen is just another word taking up space in the English vocabulary.
Slim, on the other hand, is more personable and quiet. A teetotaler, he shows love towards people, goes to church, and cares deeply for his father. Early on in the movie, Slim, whose license plate reads “TrustGod,” orders steak and scrambled eggs on their date in a restaurant which resembles a small diner. When his order arrives wrong, Slim doesn’t make a fuss about it. He knows that the waitress is going through hard times, so he empathizes with her. He also states that he patronizes black-owned businesses. Queen urges Slim to speak up for himself and to not allow anyone to push him over, so to speak.
Queen and Slim didn’t set out to find love, but the common ground of shared experiences can mend the brokenhearted. As time progresses, so does the thawing of their love for one another. Slim is the ice in Queen’s fire, and they just seem to balance one another out.
Though mainstream media makes references to these characters as a modern-day, black, Bonnie and Clyde, Queen and Slim’s only crime was that they simply existed and were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Queen and Slim take flight from Ohio (one of the 25 states that still imposes the death penalty, and the site of the shooting death of Tamir Rice in 2014), and they travel to New Orleans and across the South toward Florida in an attempt to make it to Cuba -- an executive decision made by Slim, who finally speaks up for himself. In the midst of it all, their growing love for one another is cemented on trust and loyalty, yet torn between cultural strife and striving to survive.
While in New Orleans, the two make their way to the home of Queen’s Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), who manages a house of girls of ill repute. There, Queen and Slim clean themselves up. Queen is covered in blood from being shot in the leg. She eventually undresses, allowing herself to become vulnerable in front of Slim. Queen cuts her hair, which she wore in long braid as a protective covering, “security blanket,” and defense mechanism to shield herself from the traumas of the world.
Slim shaves, something that he didn’t care to for their initial date, mainly because he doesn’t care for what he calls “vanity.” He later mentions, “ I ain’t going to bend the world. As long as my lady remembers me fondly, that’s all I need.” Slim doesn’t believe in taking pictures, be only cares that those near and dear to his heart remember him for who he is and what he stands for.
Uncle Earl is slow to offer the now-fugitives shelter in fear of drawing unwanted attention to his home, his establishment. Queen tells her Uncle that he owes her, and we later learn why -- Earl is responsible for her mom’s death, which he claims was an accident. Yet it was Queen herself who defended Uncle Earl in court.
At his home, the family nourishes their bodies with soul food. Back on their first date, Slim smacked his food loudly while eating, something that Queen despised. However, while dining at Uncle Earl’s home, Slim acknowledges Queen’s feelings and takes special care and consideration when chewing his food. It’s a simple gesture, but one that means so much to Queen.
Goddess (played by Indya Moore), one of Uncle Earl’s “girls,” tells Queen why she’s loyal and loves her uncle, even in times when he is less deserving. ”He need us to worship him,” Goddess said. “Out there he ain’t shit, but in here, he’s a king.” After being out in the real world where being a Black man is hard, Goddess makes her man feels respected, needed, wanted, honored in his home, like he is on top of the world.
When Queen leaves Uncle Earl’s home, her interaction with him turns from heartless to endearing. Dumping the truck that she and Slim stole from a sheriff, Uncle Earl gives them a classic turquoise Catalina that the two would officially use as their ride to “hide in plain sight.” As the two part ways, Queen gives her uncle a hug, a dramatic difference coming from someone whose demeanor is often aloof.
On the road to “freedom,” Queen and Slim find ways to make the best use of their time. They use the long car ride to get to know one another by debating over Skinny Luther or Fat Luther and with some thought-provoking conversation, such as when Slim asks, “Why do black people always feel the need to be excellent?"
While driving through the picturesque back roads, there are open fields, sunsets, and waterfronts. Slim mentions that “it’s beautiful out here,” but on the same scenic route, Queen only sees and points out some black prisoners working in a field while being supervised by white officers with guns. Even those they share the same moment at the same exact time, the different experiences of their lives have them perceiving their present reality differently.
There is a moment on the ride where they spot an enclosure of horses, and a white one catches Slim’s attention. He has never mounted a horse before, and in case this is his last chance to do so, Queen encourages him to live in the moment. She guides him on how to leverage his weight on the horse, and the two even laugh as the owner spots them as they take off back to their car.
Why the white horse? “In some cultures, white horses stand for the balance of wisdom and power. In others, like Christanity, the white horse is a symbol of death. The horse is a universal symbol of freedom without restraint, because riding a horse made people feel they could free themselves from their own bindings.”
In another scene where Queen encourages Slim to live a little, he seats himself at the passenger side window of their moving car. With Queen in the driver’s seat, steering their way to escape, Slim takes a chance of not “playing it safe,” telling her, “I want a ride or die.” He has found that in Queen.
On their official “second date,” the two find a moment amidst the chaos to enjoy each other’s company. “I’m taking you dancing. Let’s go,” Slim says. “You’re willing to risk getting caught so we can dance?” replies Queen. “Hell, yeah,” Slim says enthusiastically. The second date is in a small intimate club, a juke joint if you will, called the Underground. It’s a safe haven for the two to unwind, relax a bit, and to take their mind off the reality they still have to face outside, if only for a little while. Slim thinks that they are blending in under the radar, but when he orders shots of bourbon (a first as Slim does not drink), the waitress cuddles his hand and tells him not to worry -- they’re safe here.
Love is selfless. Love is risking it all, laying it all on the line, and catering to the ones you can’t seem to live without. As Slim said, “it’s protecting” and being “strong” for the one you love.
“I want him to show me scars I never knew I had. But I don’t want him to make them go away,” Queen said as she and Slim are body to body, soul to soul on the dance floor. “I want him to hold my hand while I nurse them myself. And I want him to cherish the bruises they leave behind.
“I want a guy to show me myself. I want him to love me so deeply, I’m not afraid to show him how ugly I can be,” Queen confides to Slim, giving him little more of what she’s guarded most of her life -- her heart.
The walls melt for good in a love scene that takes place while a live protest is going on, a reference to the Black Lives Matter movement. Nestled and tucked away from the public’s view, Queen finally tells Slim the backstory surrounding her mother’s death. Slim consoles her by giving her an endearing forehead kiss, which leads to them making love. The scene is very passionate, very real.
Through the intimate and intense moment, however, there is also an air of poignancy. At the same time that Queen and Slim are engaging in the “art of making love,” not so far away there are people engaging in the “art of making war” through a protest that leaves one young teen dead. Beyonce' 1 + 1 says, “so when the world’s at war, let our love heal us all, right now baby make love to me”, while Royal Republic sings, “they say ‘make love not war!’ But I say, if you have to make war, make sure to make time to make love in between.’ Well, I know I ain’t commit no crime.”
Queen mentions at one point that she is scared, a raw emotion that shows the breakdown of her former self-protective barrier. “It’s alright. I’ll be brave enough for the both of us,” Slim says. Queen is able to let her guard down and just breathe, and for once, she lets someone else take the weight off of her shoulders.
The time finally arrives when Queen and Slim come face-to-face with their fate. Double-crossed by a foe of “someone-who-knows-someone-who-knows-someone,” the two acquiesced to taking his help when they felt they had no other choice. As the man took the couple to a waiting private plane that was supposed to get them to Cuba, police showed up with guns.
“I’ll never let your hand go,” Queen says as the two realize that their journey is now over. A journey that Queen is thankful to be on, “no matter how it ends.”
“Can I be your legacy?” Queen asks. “You already are,” Slim replies.
Queen is shot dead, a heartbreaking scene shattering dreams that they will somehow reach happily-ever-after. Slim picks up a fallen Queen from the ground, but moments later, he succumbs to the same fate.
In the movie, Queen and Slim’s real names are not mentioned until the very end, when their capture is televised on the news for the world to see. With no names, they are you, me, Tyrone, Erica, Lance, Keisha, Jamal, and the list goes on. The point is that at any given moment, here in America, we can become a Queen & Slim, if the opportunity ever presents itself.
Posthumously, their legacy lives on with murals and t-shirts. The vanity of it all, though, is that Slim didn’t believe in the beauty of capturing his life’s moments. Now, his legacy will live on in the wake of his death.
By being the queen that she was, Queen somehow gave Slim the power he needed to step out from under his own shadow. Born from and centered around cultural tension, Queen and Slim took black love and crystalized it as a badge of honor.
Black love, if we let it be, is our greatest power, our shelter from the storm, our helpmate, our refuge in a time of need, and our remedy for ailments when all seems lost.
Lord Tennyson once said, “Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all,” though I guess some would agree to disagree, depending on whom you ask.
The true tragedy of it all is that this type of love didn’t find Queen until it was a little too late. It’s a love she silently longed for and was willing to die for, and in the end, she did just that -- in the arms of the one who gave it to her, Slim.