Let’s get this out of the way quickly: Queen & Slim is nowhere near Dove-approved. Too many profanities, too much nudity, and a sex scene, so this movie comes by its R rating honestly.
That said, it is worth watching because of its complexity, its timeliness, and its reluctance. The movie looks like and is marketed like the black Bonnie and Clyde, right down to a photograph of the main characters next to a car, which looks eerily reminiscent of a famous 1933 photo of the real-life white Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
But it isn’t. It’s a reluctant romance of characters who are so Everyman and Everywoman we never hear their real names until the end and never hear their titular nicknames at all. Romance hardly appears in the offing on their prickly first date at the movie’s beginning, and just when it looked like neither would see the other again, they get pulled over by an overzealous white officer who is overly thorough searching a trunk, convinced the car’s occupants are at the very least guilty of DWB — driving while black. When the male lead asks him to hurry it up, the officer takes umbrage and overreacts.
He. Whips. Out. His. Gun.
There is nothing that warrants this, mind you, just like in many episodes this decade involving black people, and doubtless this officer would’ve claimed he feared for his life, though he’s the only one armed.
This ridiculous escalation sets the rest of the movie in motion. The officer shoots Queen, wounding her left leg. (The real-life Bonnie also walked with a limp after suffering third-degree burns on her right leg.) Convinced that the officer means them harm, Slim knocks the gun away, and then retrieves it and kills the officer with the gun he had no business whipping out.
It’s self-defense, and even though the whole thing is captured on the officer’s dash cam, they believe life on the run is their only option. Even though, as another character reveals, this particular officer has apparently killed a black person before under questionable circumstances. Queen, as it turns out, is a defense attorney; she knows how the system doesn’t work, and especially for people of color.
That’s why it’s a reluctant Bonnie and Clyde story. Unlike the real-life couple, they’re not scofflaws on a crime spree. But life on the run brings them together and gives birth to deep feelings, and once the dash cam video goes viral, they’re recognized everywhere. They find allies in unlikely places on the back roads from Ohio to Florida, people who help them stay a step ahead of the police, but a fatal betrayer too.
The movie doesn’t settle for thoughtless stereotypes. It’s a white couple that tries to help the fugitives. A white deputy, not knowing who the fugitives are, offers aid when they run out of gas. There’s an officer that tries to reason with a protestor, rather than resort to arms. The main characters are sold out by a black man. The message is not that one race is all bad.
If you know how the real-life Bonnie and Clyde story concluded, you won’t be surprised by how Queen & Slim ends. Sorry about that, but surprise hardly seems the goal of the movie. It’s more a statement about divisions and mistrust of the justice system that are tearing us apart. Just as the characters aren’t able to escape, neither are we if these perceptions are allowed to persist unchecked.
Black people are often taught, “You have to be twice as good to get half as much.” Queen & Slim raises the question that Slim asks in the middle of the movie: “Why do black people always have to be excellent? Why can’t we just be normal?”
The Dove Take:
You can run, but you can’t outrun the thrill that can’t and won’t be sanitized.