Dr. Obari Adeye Cartman
A Conversation about Queen & Slim, Blackness and Possibility
[originally published November 30, 2019 by Voice of the Chi]
O: I’ve found the responses more interesting than the film. Either love or hate. And it wasn’t like my artsy friends loved it and my activist friends hated it, there were no predictable patterns. As if there was something different inside each of us that the film tapped into. The responses say more about the person than the film itself. Queen & Slim revealed to us who we are, what we need, and our vision for possibilities of Blackness. I’m a Black man raising two Black sons, and so are you. We were both raised to love Black people with urgency and want to pass that on to our children. I’m not interested in critiquing the film or discussing whether we liked it or not. I would rather use the film as a backdrop for our desires as parents and community servants to elevate us towards our best selves. Let’s start with the personal response. What would you say Queen & Slim reveled about who you are?
Afrika Porter: Queen & Slim reminded me one of the main reasons I don’t drive anymore. I left the theater feeling defeated and traumatized. I had an instant flashback of 2 years ago when I was parked in front of my building waiting for my son to arrive and a car crashed into my rear. It was two white medical students. Friends of mine. They approached my window with concern, encouraging me to go to the hospital. Soon the police pulled up and asked the white students “Are you okay?” I had a Sandra Bland moment, just for a for a quick second I wondered, could this turn into a thing?
I saw Queen & Slim with my brother and sister. My brother is 62, sister 57, and I am 46. As we exited the theatre, we were all covered in tears and silence. I soon called my 17 year old son who had already seen the film. I wanted to know what he thought. He enjoyed the film. I asked him what he thought about the couple being on a date that was suddenly disrupted by such a violence police encounter. My son very calmly said “that’s what it means to Black in America ma”. I wasn’t thrilled with his response. I was grateful he could share honestly, his truth. I proceeded to ask what he thought about the end. He said “that was the realest part”. I asked him if he wanted to see a happy ending? He reminded me of a moment in the beginning when they ran out of gas and a car was approaching. Slim said “I hope they’re Black”, and Queen said “that probably won’t matter”. My son connected that brief moment with the end as corroborating evidence that Black people aren’t to be trusted. Eventually we will turn on each other. This was the most heartbreaking part.
O: It’s such a hard task to teach our children how to remain safe in this treacherous terrain we brought them into. We got to figure out how to do that without robbing them of hope. Black victory isn’t unrealistic. Our children would watch a film about the true story of Assata Shakur and call it improbable. We did that to them. We want to the remember what they did to us and continue to do to us. We want to them to stay alert. We want the stories of the blood shed in trauma to be cautionary tales guide our children to safety. Is making up fictional Black people to kill beautifully truly the best way to honor Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Rekia Boyd? Meanwhile, we forgot to tell tales of our victory. We forgot to dramatize our resistance. Unless you count Nat Turner, which I don’t. We forgot to remind them of the times when there was nothing to resist against because we were winning for centuries. Now, even when we in charge. Black writers, Black directors, Black mayors, Black president, Black millionaires, Black film studios, our vision is so limited that in the best depiction we can imagine, we still lose. That’s the real tragedy of Queen & Slim.
Af: It’s hard. I keep sharing stories on my social media of these twins that are bio engineers. We are seeing more Black scientists, architects and doctors. But none of it matters. That was hard to watch in the film. She was an attorney, he had never had a drink in his life, but the cop insisted on rummaging through his trunk looking for a justification. I want to tell my sons to achieve more and be greater but they keep seeing these stories that tell them their Blackness will always make them a threat no matter what.
My brother eventually broke his silence in the car as we were driving away from the theater. He was still in shock. He just said “it wasn’t supposed to end that. Why can’t we never make it?” I didn’t have a good response. My brother needed to see a win. My brother already watches the news. He knows what we’re up against. He wanted to experience some art that was also medicine. This was supposed to be about love right? People are saying Queen & Slim a love letter to Black America. But my brother didn’t walk away feeling loved.