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Posted under: Opinion

How I Grappled With And Made Sense Of The Striking Ending To 'Queen & Slim'

While they were in Black spaces, they hid and were protected by the universal love of Black people.

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I listened to the Queen & Slim soundtrack daily before seeing the movie on Wednesday, November 27. I bumped to neo soul vibes of Ms. Lauryn Hill and Syd, then to Meghan Thee Stallion and 6lack. The music painted a picture of Black love, freedom and how both may be in contest with each other, or even unimaginable for us, under the mist of oppression. However, neither the soundtrack or the countless interviews I watched by Lena Waithe prepared me for the imagery, symbolism, themes and inevitable end of the movie. 

The movie starts out somber and typical with two beautiful dark skin people at a dimly lit diner in the rust belt of Ohio. The climax of the movie happens almost immediately when the couple leaves the diner, soon to be pulled over by police in their white 95 model Honda civic with a license plate that reads “Trust God.” The scene takes a dark turn as the officer gets more and more erratic, though Slim, the driver of the car, doesn’t do anything to provoke it. This scene ends when Queen, a local lawyer, gets shot in the leg by the white officer after stepping out the passenger side to intervene. Slim wrestles the gun from the officer — then shoots him. They choose to run, and in that, also choosing to live another day. The fictional encounter rings too true and recent in our psyche.

It was not missed on me that they rode south for freedom, instead of north like our ancestors. The parallels of the underground railroad were illuminated as they switched cars, depended on the hospitality of strangers, hid under a floorboard in the home of an army buddy of Queen’s uncle. New Orleans was their first stop after fleeing from a sheriff in Kentucky. There, she reconnected with her uncle, who was her first case when he killed her mother in a struggle for their family’s estate. This was yet another reminder of how a successful Black female lawyer could still be tied to the pain of her family and the trials of regular Black folk, even after making it to the realms of “success.”

Slim chose to drive towards Cuba, and in that he choose to move further south, becoming invisible in a burgundy velour suit, and Queen in a leopard dress. This spoke volumes about the ways in which southern segregation has allowed for invisibility, and their attire only added to it.

While they were in Black spaces, they hid and were protected by the universal love of Black people. They found joy and freedom, though ephemeral. But in white spaces, those who have built their persona on liberal integration, they found nosey neighbors and suspicious hosts. This was seen with the wife of the army buddy of Queen’s uncle and the neighbor across the street, who is suggested to have called the cops. However, they escaped after a Black cop noticed them making noise in a nearby garage. He let them go and added to the parallel of the underground railroad, where anyone could be an agent for the movement.

Next, they headed to Georgia where they pulled off the road to dance at a juke joint that shielded them for the moment. There, Black people danced freely and drank whiskey. Lastly, then drove to Florida, where they were meant to meet someone who would fly them to Cuba.

We took a ride with Queen and Slim, from the rust belt of Ohio to the southern tip of Florida. We felt the joy, the love, the possibility of freedom through their drive. Until the very end when they were surrounded by the police while a helicopter flew in the backdrop, I noticed we did not know the main characters' names until they were shot down by police. This signaled the many nameless Black people that are killed and terrorized by police, some whose names are only illuminated in their death.

Sadly, they were turned in by a Black man that saw them on the side of the road. Instead of providing a haven, like other Black spaces that kept them alive, he proved that all “skinfolk ain’t kinfolk.” This character proved his deviation from the collective, as he counted his reward money on the couch in his trailer home, while Queen and Slim were shot down by police. He proved that freedom is always constrained by capital gain and though he gained a $500,000 reward, he was more in captivity than the couple who had chosen to find their freedom as fugitives.

The inevitable ending was painful for those of us experiencing the journey of rediscovering the means of freedom through Queen and Slim. However, it was symbolic of the criminalization of Black bodies and the constant conception of Black people as fugitives.

Afro-futurist scholars have discussed how Black people were never meant to be free in the conceptualization of the American empire and European conquest. So that could explain why a Black woman and a Black man with no record are stopped with the suspicion of criminal intent and being out of place. No social class or distinguished title can save us from this. However, Queen and Slim showed us that we can save ourselves if we love each other enough and we decide to live another day, or six.

In addition, Queer of Color scholars have illuminated Blackness as part of the vastness of otherness, or queernees. Cathy J. Cohen points out in her seminal article, Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics, that our queer politics must expand the boundaries of class, heteronormativity and strict definitions to highlight the ways in which characters like Queen and Slim are left out of the policy and praxis of our movements. Blackness is criminal, fugitive and queer in the eyes of the western empire. However, for us, it can be joy, love and the insatiable desire to breathe.

The layers of Queen were too complex to peel back in this movie, but you felt her pain and her disappointment in realizing the American dream did not include her. She also emphasized tropes of a disgruntled Black women, hardened by life, almost incapable of softness, but still the protectors of Black men, nonetheless. Slim, the Black man, needed this protection to survive another day.

Slim showed a humanity rarely depicted of Black men by being satisfied with a simple life, if only “his lady remembers him well.” Together, they taught us lessons in taking time to smell the flowers, trusting Black people and choosing to breathe. This led to their death.

I was distraught by the ending, believing it meant we had to die, even in our imaginations. This is a limitation of the plot. The idea that we do not survive in our artistic worlds and beyond these borders also plays into the idea of America as the only beacon for freedom. Though, Black people exist everywhere in the world touched by anti-Blackness, there are still spaces where we can be and live a longer life.

Through, Queen and Slim’s death, and the young boy who was killed after he shot a cop at a protest, it was illuminated that our immortality is our freedom. There should be a place where they can live free in our Black memory as well as beyond the constraints of western borders and conceptions of who we are in our art and beyond.

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Shaneda is a Black Queer-Loving woman, wife, aunt, godmother, yogi, lover of Black people and an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies in Tennessee, who also writes a little.

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