The Scam of "Black" Cinema

Queen & Slim was a bait and switch with a clear purpose

This is not a think piece. This is me in my feelings. This is not a Queen & Slim review. It’s a rumination. Queen & Slim is a beautifully shot and wonderfully acted film with a purpose, but I’d argue that its purpose is a laughably redundant one. I’m about to spoil this movie so if you don’t want to be spoiled leave now.

Under the gorgeous cinematography, simplistic but poignant characterization, and well crafted soundtrack, Queen & Slim has a pretty clear message: if Black people resist, the only thing they’ll ever manage to accomplish are bloody “noble” deaths at best. Sure, folks all over the country, maybe even the world, will create a festival of mourning, murals in their honor will go up, perhaps an alter of candles, flowers, and stuffed animals. Vendors will put pictures of them on tee shirts they can sell for $20 or work them into a collage of images with other Black folk who were killed for no reason and sell that for $25. Life will go on. The systems in place that bind us and bleed us will persist. Wash, rinse, repeat.

This $20M lesson about the ephemeral nature of Black life in this society is unnecessary because reality has already been our brutal teacher.

What was the point? What was the fucking point? Why did I spend my hard earned $18 to be lulled into a false sense of solidarity by Black makers whose imaginations don’t extend past the outro music of the nightly news? I saw the trailer months ago and I was hyped. Look at these beautiful ebony people in this realistic situation where for once there isn’t a hashtag, they kill their would-be assailant and go on the run instead. Then they fall in love! I had stars in my eyes and trust in my heart when I settled into my seat at the new movie theater downtown.

The first indication that this film was on that bullshit was the nonsensical protest scene with the little boy who gave absolutely no indication he was a cold blooded murderer shooting a Black cop who was trying to help him. It’s as if, seeing Black victory turned that earnest little Black boy into a monster with the mentality of a school shooter. I half expected the actors to freeze in place while Lena Waithe and Melina Matsoukas come shuffling into frame and say, “Now is dat whatchoo want? Well das jus’ was gon’ happen if we stands up fo ourselves!” Then shuffle back behind the camera again.

queen & slim, queen & slim, queen & slim
Lena Waithe, Writer/Producer, and Melina Matsoukas, Director/Producer, attend the QUEEN & SLIM World Premiere Gala Screening at AFI FEST 2019 in Hollywood, CA on Thursday, November 14, 2019.

Queen & Slim is hardly the first film to envision a no-win future for Black folks. In fact the inauthentic, single-story narratives that fill our history books, TV programs, and films created a fervor for Black voices in media, which is why there are a modicum of successful Black media makers now. But the tragic reality is that those filmmakers were fed the same steady diet of anti-Blackness we all were so when they put fingers to keyboard, many of them tumble down into the same briar of tropes.

There’s also the practical Hollywood reality to consider. Besides being one of the best songs ever written with many breathtaking bars, Thieves in the Night by Black Star encapsulated the most important thing one should remember about the limitations of commercial Black art and media in the west.

Not free, we only licensed, not live, we just exciting

Cause the captors own the masters to what we writing

~ “Thieves in the Night” | Black Star
queen & slim, queen & slim, queen & slim
Brad Weston, Producer, Andrew Coles, Producer, and Pamela Abdy, Producer, attend the QUEEN & SLIM World Premiere Gala Screening at AFI FEST 2019 in Hollywood, CA on Thursday, November 14, 2019.

Hell, this film is brought to us by the same people who produced Green Book, which was showered with western accolades as a result of its brazen disregard for the legacy of its Black subject, Don Shirley.

I allowed the casual misogyny of the comic relief dude they hit with the car and the blatant dysfunction of the Bokeem Woodbine character and his house of hoes; one who worships him that he favors and the other who is defiant that he beats. I understood them as popular archetypes of Black Americana and stayed focused mostly on my two protagonists. I could go into all the things I liked about them and their relationship but it doesn’t matter because all I’m left with is the visceral distrust of any western media that puts Black people at its center. Queen & Slim caught me slippin, but it won’t happen again.

Any Black person who can’t imagine a world where we can win does not want my patronage and I will spend exactly 0 seconds feeling guilty about skipping any of their offerings in the multiplex. I have reached my limit of ingesting Black pain and Black bloodshed and Black bowing and Black scraping.

Films like this always get hit with a “powerful,” by critics. It makes me reflective about yesterday’s movie going experience. There was the bustle and chatter of us arriving to the theater seeking our seats and settling in. There was a steady thrum of chatter throughout the film that rose to distracting levels at times because this quiet movie was not built to withstand the engagement levels that Black audiences bring to things 😄.

I then fast forward to how starkly this contrasted with the way we filed out of the theater after Queen & Slim had ended, joylessly and muted. The latest bloody reminder of what Black rebelion cost played in our minds as we stepped out of the darkness of the theater and into the the darkness and cold of the real world where the threat of state sanctioned violence is as constant as it is in the “entertainment” we just consumed. Yes, Queen & Slim was powerful, but it’s important to ask for whom.

19 thoughts on “The Scam of "Black" Cinema

  1. I love this piece that you wrote. I felt the same way about the film. I was asking myself “why?” After it was all done. This movie isn’t even her script/story and it has trauma porn written all over it. It was well acted and beautifully shot, other than that it was a completely empty and forgettable experience for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw Queen & Slim last week. Movies like this were a dime a dozen back in the 1970s with white protagonists on a crime spree …Here’s where it steers into something different: These BLACK PEOPLE did NOTHING but survive the attention of a predator goon with the lethal power and blessing of the state. No crime spree. Just two BLACK PEOPLE who knew what the system would do to black people in their situation.
      They put a price on our head and some coon will cash out on you. Our children will wildly lash out and it be consumed- and we will be blamed.
      Even if you are not at war with the system , it will consume you when your number is up. We will not make it to Cuba like Assata. WE WILL LOSE.

      …And the beat goes on

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  2. I was hoping they would post an answer to my question about alternate endings on Twitter. It’s a disappointing ending but the alternatives raise possible problems. I still enjoyed the movie and would watch it again several times.

    How would you have ended this film? I thought of a few ways.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In Cuba. A short scene that shows they’re happy but they have to stay vigilant so they have a system–maybe a special knock or something. They have bug out bags packed and at the bottom of the closet. They have a police scanner… etc. Life isn’t perfect, but they’re free, alive, and in love still.

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    2. First: I would cut that whole scene with the kid shooting the black cop. That was absolute garbage.

      Second: I would add some black people with different class and educational backgrounds. The only black man in the movie that wasn’t a cartoon caricature of a misogynistic broken child who is placated by browbeaten women was the mechanic…

      Last: They would WIN. They might get injured and I might play with the prospect that they wouldn’t win, but the movie would most certainly end with BOTH OF THEM ALIVE IN CUBA.

      For the same reason GET OUT played well with it’s ridiculous ending was mostly because WE WON AT THE END.

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  3. THIS! I simply can’t digest anymore films showing Black people as one-dimensional, downtrodden law-breaking simpletons, as if our stories and history aren’t rich & diverse. Enough!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great piece! I loved how you talked about all the good things and how it was all lost the minute their bodies hit the ground! Like yes… I watched this story and saw all the way these very young people grew and then it was all for nothing really. There was such an excellent cinematic experience in this movie but foolishness stole away all its potential for me.

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