The movie asks you to imagine that an African American couple fleeing police would have a greater shot at freedom within the Deep South than within the North. This is why.
This story accommodates spoilers for Queen & Slim.
The movie Queen & Slim arrives at a second when discussions of police violence, sanctuary, and public area are in frequent collision. On its face, this can be a True Romance-like flick about star-crossed fugitives; it’s additionally been billed as an replace of the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde, however that comparability doesn’t stick. Bonnie and Clyde was a few couple on the run—a joyride, truly—for breaking the regulation; Queen and Slim is a few couple on the run as a result of the regulation broke them.
Right here’s what which means: The movie, the primary full-length function from director Melina Matsoukas (who was one of the filmmakers behind Beyonce’s Lemonade), revolves round an African American man and lady (their actual names go unrevealed till the top, however they’re the “Queen” and “Slim” of the title) who, after a Tinder first-date, turn out to be concerned within the capturing demise of a police officer in Cleveland, Ohio. Slim, performed by Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), shoots the cop in response to—truly, it doesn’t matter what he was responding to. He’s a black man who simply killed a cop within the metropolis that refused to indict the police officer who killed the 12-year-old black boy Tamir Rice—in truth, declared that it was “objectively reasonable” to kill him. Queen, performed by Jodie Turner-Smith (Nightflyers), is a prison protection lawyer who failed to save lots of certainly one of her shoppers in a demise penalty case earlier that day.
Moderately than face the state authorized system, the couple take off, fleeing Ohio by automotive to New Orleans the place Queen hopes her uncle will be capable to assist them. The narrative unfolds alongside their getaway journey, a largely joyless journey for our protagonists. For this plot trajectory, Lena Waithe, the movie’s lead author and co-producer, asks the viewers to just accept one thing counterintuitive, if not counter-historical: That a black couple needed for one of many gravest crimes would have a greater shot at freedom by escaping to the Deep South than they might earlier than a decide and jury within the North.
They might have elected to interrupt for Canada, proper throughout Lake Erie, and even headed West. Their resolution, as an alternative, to go down South would have befuddled somebody like Harriet Tubman, the once-enslaved black lady who helped steer a whole lot of black folks north to freedom within the mid-1800s (and who has her own movie in theaters right now).
However the causes for escaping to the South in 21st-century America usually are not as complicated when considering that this route tracks with the real-life migratory patterns of African American households during the last 30 years. It’s a “reverse migration” that has despatched black households again to the previous Accomplice states from which earlier generations fled, the place they’ve been increasingly developing more majority-black cities and spaces. And there’s one explicit scene in Queen & Slim that brings that grand return-to-sender sample sharply into focus.
The scene takes place about half means by the film at a blues juke joint in Mississippi the place Queen and Slim, weary from the lam, steal a second to get pleasure from the truth that they’re nonetheless alive. Inside, it’s a sweatbox. Blues legend Little Freddie King is molesting a guitar and mic on a small stage that respects no boundaries with the dance ground in entrance of it, or the folks freaking one another in it. The dim lighting, save for the occasional crimson beams from neon beer indicators, makes it tough to make out faces, and but everybody within the place appears to know who’s in the home. It’s a proudly seedy institution that shamelessly indulges black fugitivity (we’ll get to what this implies in a second). The bar patrons acknowledge our protagonists, who’ve turn out to be causes célèbres over the course of their getaway, however don’t swarm them.
When Slim goes to purchase drinks, the bartender tells him the drinks are on the home; she tells him she is aware of who they’re, however assures them that they’re protected in right here. As Slim scans the inside, the opposite patrons give him the slightest nods and gazes to code their solidarity. This scene encapsulates why African Individuals nonetheless want unique black areas like this—locations the place white and even non-black folks of colour aren’t readily free to roam or entry.
At a time when black persons are getting killed whereas sitting and sleeping in their cars, in their churches, and even in their own homes by police, such sanctuaries have gotten more durable to return by. Sanctuary on this sense doesn’t simply imply a spot for black suspects to cover out, however quite sanctuary from being typically seen with suspicion, only for being black. Prior to now few years we’ve seen white folks name the cops on African Individuals for having barbecues in public parks, sitting in cafes, selling water on the sidewalk, sleeping outside their dorms, and mowing the lawn. There have been will increase in nuisance police calls and quality-of-life codes enforcement against African Americans in gentrifying neighborhoods.
Black persons are working out of locations the place they are often free and cozy in their very own pores and skin—fairly much like circumstances for Latino Individuals beneath present restrictive immigration enforcement, and for Muslim Individuals beneath present anti-terrorist legal guidelines. In lots of gentrifying city neighborhoods, it’s the black-owned bars, jazz lounges, barber outlets, and jitney stations which can be typically the primary institutions to get uprooted. They’re seen as unpleasant, moribund properties that breed crime and fugitivity (maintain on, we’re getting there).
In the meantime, the juke joints that have been as soon as plentiful across the South are now endangered, if not nearly extinct. This isn’t only a Deep South erasure: There are no more go-go clubs in Washington, D.C. (although the culture lives on); there’s no Crawford Grill in Pittsburgh and no Lenox Lounge and St. Nick’s Pub in Harlem.
The juke joint Queen and Slim go to is named “The Underground” —an unsubtle reference to the Underground Railroad community that was used throughout slavery to shuttle and negotiate the enslaved to freedom. Waithe instructed OprahMag.com that she noticed her story as a “reverse slave escape narrative” happening on “the trendy day Underground Railroad,” this one spanning the South. Even the movie’s Cleveland start line was deliberately chosen for its place as one of many last stops on the Underground Railroad earlier than reaching Canada.
That is yet one more narrative parallel to the Harriet Tubman story, even when, once more, the respective refugees journeyed in opposing instructions to freedom. However the widespread denominator for Tubman and Waithe’s protagonists is—right here we’re—their black fugitivity.
That’s “a refusal of these catalogued … to be fully captured or lowered to the archival grammar of criminality or the seriality of sort,” in accordance with Tina Campt, a black feminist theorist of visible tradition and modern artwork. Damien M. Sojoyner, city anthropologist and professor on the College of California, Irvine, defines it as a “disavowal of and disengagement from state-governed initiatives that try and adjudicate normative constructions of distinction by liberal tropes of freedom and democratic belonging.” And in his book Stolen Life, the inimitable poet and social theorist Fred Moten, a black research and literature professor on the College of California, Riverside, makes use of the time period to explain “a need for and a spirit of escape and transgression of the right and the proposed.”
Waithe’s protagonists and storyline provides flesh and breathes soul into these tutorial notions of black fugitivity. If you happen to should know, Slim kills the Cleveland officer in self protection, after the cop shoots Queen within the leg for attempting to document his harassment of them on her cellphone; that is what triggers their flight. Why this doesn’t matter is that American historical past rejects the concept there may be any objectively cheap clarification for why a black individual has killed a cop.
The Fugitive Slave Act of Tubman’s day approved slave catchers from the south to apprehend and extradite escaped previously enslaved folks within the North, which made the free state of Ohio in some methods indistinguishable from Louisiana: In each locations, blackness itself was rendered fugitive and unlawful. That is the context for the welcoming message that The Underground’s bartender gave to Slim: They see all of us as present outdoors of the regulation, so that you would possibly as effectively make your self at dwelling right here.
Exterior of the juke joint, Queen and Slim are again in hostile territory. At each cease alongside their journey—Queen’s uncle’s home in New Orleans, an auto mechanic in Mississippi, a household good friend’s home in Georgia, a small airport in Monroe County, Florida—our protagonists face the hazard that the police may present up or be summoned at any second. It’s almost not possible for them to know who to belief, and pores and skin colour alone isn’t any indication: A white couple hides them from police; a black civilian turns them in to gather a bounty.
That juke joint is actually the one place they encounter that gives them true security and safety. Such black areas are maybe the final standing monuments of the Deep South that pay no reverence to the heritage enshrined within the area’s ubiquitous Lost Cause memorials. As an alternative, they honor the Misplaced Trigger’s exiles.