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What Went Wrong With… Queen & Slim?

A parody of Queen & Slim poster reading Queen & Rims

In recent years, we’ve had numerous black-acted, black-written, and black-directed movies. This is undoubtedly something to be celebrated but conversely something to be ridiculed because it’s taken this long to happen. As a consequence of finally having multiple black films however (whether big-budget blockbusters or low-budget indie films) we’ve also had a slew of fawners creating an atmosphere of blanket flattery. Take a read of any mainstream review of black-made movies and witness critics falling over themselves to praise each and every film, calling them “cool” and “powerful” (and other deep-seated racist terms). Similarly, black audiences automatically applaud each film simply because of the ethnic make-up of the talent involved. This is a downright idiotic situation. White or black, a movie is either a classic, average, or disappointing, it doesn’t matter who made it.

So with that lengthy caveat out of the way, I finally watched Queen & Slim (starring Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith) and I can now say that other than the two lead actors, it’s completely overrated. The film is lazily described as a “Black Bonnie And Clyde” which is a disparaging comparison. This description sounds like Queen & Slim is an inferior copy created solely for the purpose of changing the ethnicity rather than creating an original and therefore meaningful movie. In addition, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were real-life criminals; they robbed banks and gas stations, they didn’t shoot a racist cop in self-defence. Other than the famous photographs of the couple being mirrored in this movie, there’s nothing else here that’s similar. And that’s one of the main issues I have; police brutality is rife, and racism is everywhere in society; from economics, education, politics, entertainment, to employment so how is embroiling a throwaway, fictional art film in amongst these real-life issues helping anybody?

Politics aren’t the only issue with Queen & Slim. In filmic terms, there’s a slow pace that plods along without much occurring. Slow can sometimes mean brooding or atmospheric but in this instance I mean boring and dull. Aside from the opening confrontation with a heavy-handed and itchy-trigger-fingered cop, every time the leads encounter a potentially thrilling scene (riding in a truck with an off-duty sheriff or hiding amidst a police raid) it’s not nail-biting or particularly interesting. This is exactly what I’d expect from an ex-music video director but because the director of this flick is a shade of brown, she’s not slated in the same way as say Floria Sigismondi.

Then there’s the almost pointless dialogue – a conversation about eating loudly and another about where babies come from – they serve no purpose whether in terms of character development or plot furtherance. There’s one potentially smart and witty line (“Nothing scares a white man more than a black man on a horse.” – “Why?” – “Because they have to look up to them.”) but in and among the crappy scenery, costumes, and characters, this also amounts to nothing. It’s not like this film is set in the 1600s to the 1800s (plus that line could also be said if a black man wears circus stilts so it’s not as clever as the writers think). And while I’m at it, there’s a character played by Bokeem Woodbine who slaps a woman in her face after accusing her of stealing his jewellery. Hearing the altercation, Jodie Turner-Smith’s character defends his actions. “He wasn’t always like that”, apparently “Iraq fucked him up” which means war can turn a man into a wife-beater! What the flying militaristic fuck?

This movie is famously created by a pair of minority women (Lena Waithe and Melina Matsoukas) with the help of a white man (James Frey), but what’s very perplexing is how two ethnic minorities created a film heaving with prejudicial ideas and even self-hatred. The central premise of a racist cop getting what he deserved is something that absolutely needs to be tackled but this movie hasn’t achieved it. Firstly, which black man in America doesn’t automatically place their hands on the steering wheel when they’re pulled over? It’s a racist reflex that black people, especially black males, have to “learn” to prevent them getting shot at. The seriousness of this issue is not tackled in any kind of way here. Instead, the film descends into black culture cliches and black stereotypes; chrome rims, ho-slapping pimps wearing Gucci, an overweight man cheating on his partner with other “bitches”, meaningless non-political Hip-Pop, a gold-grill-wearing character possibly selling out the two protagonists for cash. It’s almost like a racist wrote this shite. There’s also the line “Pictures aren’t just about vanity. They’re proof of your existence” which amounts to “I want to be remembered”, but this historical documentation only occurs after they’re criminals. So black people should be remembered for violence and fake-political or hollow-political movements than actual good deeds? Piss off!

In terms of story, shooting a cop raises the status of the two main characters in the black community and it inadvertently makes them celebrities and political heroes. But this isn’t a satire about either topic, it’s just a mish-mash of subjects that never go anywhere but downhill. The fact that the “Black Panther” fist-salute is used in this movie, it seems to be suggesting that black movements are built on nothing; a fluke, a mistake, not actual angst. And why de-intellectualise an educated black woman (a lawyer) by dressing her in what looks like a racist white man’s dream (a tiger-skin patterned hooker outfit). Turner-Smith’s character abandons the law which she’s an expert in and instead becomes a fugitive for a man she hardly knows (and met on Tinder of all places). Is this romance or is this idiocy? Maybe it’s because she’s a “ride or die” chick! That corny line is actually mentioned as though we’re still in the noughties. I guess amongst the velvet and velour shit, tracksuits and Sean John furs, you can safely say that the writers and costumers are out of touch with the times.

The editing is also poor. The nonsensical juxtaposition of the lead couple having sex and a teenager shooting a black riot policeman in the face means what exactly? And whilst on that topic, why do all the black cops help Queen and Slim? In real life a cop is a cop, they’re blue regardless of their skin colour. Oh how I hark back to Boyz N The Hood.

So what happened to genuine black empowerment in entertainment? People seem to forget about Mario Van Peebles’ Panther and Posse which were made without mainstream and therefore white acceptance. Black classics are being ignored wholesale just so contemporary trash can be lauded as “daring” and “moving”. Classics are underrated to the point you still can’t buy Blu-rays of either of Peeble’s films and yet this bullshit is up for numerous awards and will get a release in every format known to (white) man.

If Queen & Slim was actually making a point about racism in a “Bonnie And Clyde” way, the plot would have involved the two central characters going on a cross-country killing spree, gunning-down racist white people before killing themselves. A few more bodies aren’t going to matter once you’ve killed a cop and surely it’s preferable to die on your own terms (a la Thelma & Louise) as a genuine political outlaw than letting the pigs get you? Instead we have Queen and Slim taking Polaroids dressed in pimp and prostitute’s clothing, doing nothing but dancing and eating fast food, missing their flight to Cuba like the most inept fugitives in history, and yet despite all this they get their murals graffiti-ed on a wall even though they’ve done nothing intentionally or particularly worthwhile. This easily-digestible, non-threatening, pussy-ass plot is most likely the reason Queen & Slim was put into production.

I can’t believe that a black woman and a mixed-race woman came up with this crap. Maybe it’s something to do with the input of the white male writer? Or maybe the black people involved are typical Hollywood sellouts. I guess a music video director who seems to be surgically attached to Jay-Z and Beyonce’s butt cheeks was never going to portray black struggle in any kind of meaningful and poignant way. Go find a genuine black movie, although it’s still…

Slim Pickings.

Writing: 2/10

Directing: 4/10

Acting: 7/10

Overall: 3/10

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