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Queen in Pain

Updated: Apr 28

I almost skipped watching “Queen and Slim.” I saw the trailer a while back and thought it was on some ride or die type shit. From the trailer, it appears Slim shoots the cop and subsequently persuades Queen to go on the run with him. If you shoot a cop while I’m on date with you, I might could make it to your trial. I will not play Bonnie and Clyde with you though. But when my homegirl texted me like “Want to go see Queen and Slim? Got tickets to an advance screening,” you know I said yes. After I saw Queen exit the car to question the cop’s lawlessness, I just knew it was coming.

Queen and Slim seated opposite each other at a diner.

Another Black woman muling for a Black man who wouldn’t lift a finger for her. But something else happened. The cop shoots Queen. Slim reacts. Slim reacts. He throws himself at the cop, the men wrestling to the ground. Slim makes it to the gun first. My brain didn’t register that Slim shot the cop. My brain just kept repeating: Slim reacts. To a darker skinned Black woman being shot. A Black woman he barely knows. When Black women and girls speak of our pain, no one bats an eye. We are told that our pain is of our own making. Because we are too loud. Too aggressive. Too angry. Slim not only notices that Queen has been shot, but he also takes action.

Queen’s pain is as conspicuous as the powder blue El Dorado the couple drive when fleeing to Florida. Perhaps this is why she insists that they take the antique car, saying, “We’ll be hidden in plain sight.” Like the El Dorado, Queen’s bruised and broken body hides in plain sight: she is shot in the leg during the first cop encounter. Later she jumps from a roof, breaking her arm. In the penultimate scene, Queen is the first one shot and killed.

Queen and Slim seated on fold-up chairs. Slim holds his head down. Queen, a bandage wrapped around her her left leg, looks at him.

Slim mostly escapes this barrage of physical violence until he is fatally wounded at the end. Lena Waithe and Melina Matsoukas tattoo misogynoir onto Queen’s body, making visible the miles our bodies log even if they don’t crack and break from all that bruising. But her external wounds only touch the tips of her pain.

Bokeem Woodbine plays Queen’s uncle and is a standout in the film. He is no benevolent figure, however. Uncle Earl, a former vet, physically beats women. It is this same violence that leads him to accidentally kill his sister, Queen’s mother. Despite this, Queen successfully defends her uncle during trial. She lives in that space so many Black women occupy whenever we anesthetize ourselves from our pain to make room for someone else’s. The world tells us that naming our pain is useless; no one will care enough to do something about it. Perhaps this is why some critics describe Jodie Turner-Smith’s portrayal of Queen as stiff. A portrayal that seems intentional. No one cares to notice Queen’s scars. Let alone ask her what she had to go through to make the bleeding stop. What becomes of our bodies in spaces like these?

Slim too crouches as if bracing for a blow. But isn’t this what fugitive living extracts from us? I am not talking about their sudden flight to Florida. Nearly every Black person knows on-the-run living. To inhale other Black people’s murder as the scent of your own blood.

That glorious scene of the pair dancing in a darkly lit juke joint lingered for such a time that I was able to ponder what our lives could be if we weren’t among the hunted. In that juke joint, Queen and Slim move with all the patience of a backwoods baptism.

As time stood still, I thought about those of us who never signed up to be slogans on tee shirts. Those of us who were just trying to make it home in time for the second half of the All Star game. Those of us who just want to talk shit and hold hands in the parking lot. But the curiousity of Queen and Slim is its improbability and possibility. Isn’t that our story? We are killed in ways that defy common sense. We run, we get shot. We stand still, we get shot. We say yes sir, we get shot. We play video games with our nephew, we get shot.

We are told to accept our assassinations as just one big misunderstanding. Unfortunate accidents.

Isn’t this what Sal says after the cops choke Radio Raheem to death in “Do The Right Thing”? This is no doubt the film that Waithe leaned on for inspiration. Radio Raheem decided that if he could not make Sal hear him, he could damn sure make him feel him. Slim too can’t change this rotten world. Yet he chooses to hold space for Queen’s pain. He reacts.

Radio Raheem walks down a Brooklyn street holding a boombox. In the background, could that be a 1976 El Dorado? The same one Queen and Slim rode in?

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