SPOILER ALERT: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM EACH MOVIE
The highly anticipated romantic action thriller movie Queen & Slim, produced by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas, follows an African- American couple who goes on the run after they fatally shoot a white cop following their first date. Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) embark on a journey not cut out for the faint of heart or naïve.
In addition to being dubbed a modern-day black “Bonnie & Clyde,” Waithe also successfully draws subliminal parallels to an iconic staple of African- American history, the Underground Railroad. Following the murder, Queen and Slim spend a total of 6 days evading law enforcement while a bounty is out for them. They cannot do this without the help from others along the way. Similar to how the Underground Railroad contained secret spots that provided rest and help for escaped slaves, Queen & Slim make “help stops” along their journey as well. This help comes in the form of people giving them shelter, food, money, and even people who recognize who they are and don’t “snitch” to the authorities on their whereabouts.
Before I continue to get into the juicy stuff, this is where we cut for a quick commercial break. For those who don’t know, the Underground Railroad was a network of both African American and white people who offered aid and shelter to escaped slaves from the South. Contrary to the name it was not an actual railroad but did have “conductors” with Harriet Tubman being the most famous. While a conductor, Tubman made 19 trips with escaped slaves between the South and the North.
Queen & Slim’s November release comes a few weeks after Harriet made its debut in theaters. Written by Debra Martin Chase, Harriet tells the true story of Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo) who escapes from slavery and dedicates the rest of her life to helping slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad. This poses as no easy task for Tubman, who risks her life for years so others can be brought to freedom.
As expected, when Queen & Slim begin their journey as runaways, emotions are high as they are forced to constantly think on their feet and look over their shoulder (all while falling in love). Their lives are completely changed as they now are fugitives who must escape imprisonment and possibly death.
Both movies, set in different time periods one being fictionalized and the other based off a true story, capture the importance of community amongst people of color. For Queen & Slim, community comes both expectedly and unexpectedly to successfully help them avoid capture for six days. The contributions of each member of the community ranges from trivial to vast (for example Queen and Slim’s Uncle Earl gesture of allowing them to stay in his house for a night and giving them $2,500 cash being the grandest in my opinion). In Harriet community comes in the form of meeting those who help her to organize the Underground Railroad and provide shelter and living space for free slaves. The sense of togetherness maneuvers its way through the plot of each movie, allowing room for characters in each film to form needed connections with their worlds as they know it.
Black excellence and black girl magic emerge in some of its best forms in “Harriet” and “Queen & Slim.” Aside from the fact production and direction for both projects are led by black women, the protagonists are strong black women who don’t hold back in any aspect. Queen and Harriet exemplify and explore a new gold standard for leading black women in films. Both movies appear during a time where black history is being retold in film and a new “what-if” is presented in the form of citizen brutality towards a police officer. It might be too early to predict, but both movies impact on the black community and cinema are sure to be greater than words or even pictures can truly describe.