“Can I be Your Legacy?” 5 Memorable Quotes from Queen & Slim
The movie theater experience is one that is near to my heart, but that I have been slacking on a lot in the past year. What can I say? Being booked and busy leaves less time for taking in hot popcorn in front of new flicks. This month, I finally took some time off from work to enjoy the holidays, which subsequently made room for me catch up on new releases I’ve missed in the past couple of weeks. So on the heels of Christmas Day, I finally went to see Queen & Slim, the newest film written by Lena Waithe, directed by Melina Matsoukas (who also directed the 2016 visual album, Lemonade), and starring Daniel Kaluuya with Jodie Turner-Smith.
Queen & Slim is a movie about the intersections of Blackness, the rippling effects of police brutality, and finding the strength and will to be more than just a person existing within the social issues in the U.S., all centered around two unlikely matches who fall in love while on the run. Don’t roll your eyes; it’s much more than just a story about violence and struggle. Yes, those elements of the Black American experience are acknowledged and form major threads in the tapestry of this tale, but they are not the main attraction by any means. Instead, they are used as vehicles of storytelling to show how shared experiences, both good and bad, can birth something life-changing, and if we’re lucky, beautiful.
Fueled by soul-stirring music, a dynamic script, and powerhouses both in front of and behind the screen, this movie is easily one of the best that I have seen in a while. It made me experience every emotion, resonated deeply with me in terms of identity, and has left me thinking days after taking it in. While watching, I couldn’t help but to note several quotes spoken by various characters who were seemingly commenting on their fictional situations, but served as loud references to the things that we deal with in our everyday Black lives. So without further ado, here are my top five quotes from Queen & Slim, and what they meant to me.
“Why Black people always gotta be ‘excellent?’ Why can’t we ever just be ourselves?” -Earnest “Slim” Hines
For those who haven’t seen the movie, Queen and Slim meet on a Tindr date that goes awry. While driving and trying to make a plan for how to get out of their sticky situation, they get into conversation about Queen’s career as a defense attorney. Slim asks, “You must be a good attorney, huh?” to which Queen responds, “I am an excellent attorney.” The quote noted above was Slim’s response to her correction.
This quote was noteworthy to me for two reasons. First, it was relatable because I am also a woman who prides herself on exhibiting excellence in my endeavors. Secondly, it was important because Slim’s words reminded me of the many reasons that many of us (African Americans) feel the need to strive for, achieve, and remind others of our excellence. It’s absurd that we must go to such lengths to prove ourselves, and Slim’s question is valid, but I want to discuss the reasons why WE can never just be ourselves in the professional realm.
The fact is that most of us are not born with the privilege of being taken seriously as soon as we walk into many rooms. We are sometimes limited when our name on a resume or our culturally significant hairstyles are deemed too ethnic to coincide with “the look” of many businesses. We do not attain degrees, advancements, promotions, or praise for being merely good; instead, we must be great. Because we carry physical features that have been associated with the fallacy that we are somehow “less than” intelligent, capable, or worthy of being in certain spaces, we have to work, outwork, and then work even harder to earn our place in various educational and professional institutions. Which has always been interesting to me, considering that many of those spaces were built by the ancestors on whose shoulders we stand. Whether physically or figuratively, it is by their bones and blood that many of the areas wishing to close us out, or hesitating to let us in, continue to stand today. This is especially true of Queen’s professional field, the complicated and flawed justice system of the United States.
To Slim’s point, sure, it would be great to live more relaxed lives and earn what we deserve by just being ourselves; but unfortunately “ourselves” are seldom rewarded. Instead, we have to take extra steps to be seen, relied upon, and set ourselves apart from the crowd to demonstrate our abilities in order to thrive. Understand and believe why after doing all of that to earn our place, no apologies will be given for the claiming our achievements.
“He needs us to worship him. Out there he ain’t shit, but in here…he a King.” – Goddess
The first stop on their journey is a visit to Queen’s uncle, Earl, who lives in New Orleans. As soon as he appears, it is apparent that like many men living in similar situations, Uncle Earl’s women, clothes, money, and cars are symbols of his self-esteem, image, and greatest achievements. Even when he abuses them, his women stay loyal to him and the hustle that fuels their collective lifestyle. One of his girls, Goddess, comments on this using the quote above while assisting Queen with taking down her braids.
By her words, I was reminded of the men in my own proximity who have either experimented with or become consumed by the street life because it made them feel like somebody in a world that constantly says they are nobody. Uncle Earl had served in the military, faced legal trouble after a fatal interaction with a family member, and subsequently took up a life in the prostitution game to earn and sustain the lifestyle that he desired. Barring the details, he reminds me of the many Black men in this country who were born with endless potential, but became victims of the various influences (and systems) around them that prevented them from realizing just how far they could have gone. Uncle Earl was by no means perfect, but at his core, he was a man living with mistakes and social barriers that closed off many of life’s opportunities to advance. Because of that, he surrounded himself with people and things that made him feel like a King in his castle…and they willingly obliged to play along for his, and their own, good.
“I’m used to saying I’m okay, even when I’m not.” -Angela “Queen” Johnson
This was a mouthful said in 10 words. I expand on this more in the second episode of my new podcast, Kultured Commentary (Surprise!), but Queen really struck a chord with this line. Think about it:
How often do we instinctively smile and say we’re okay, even when we know that we are not?
I’ve done it too many times to count in my life; so much that, like Queen in the movie, when asked how I’m doing, I often respond that I’m okay without even hesitating or thinking about it. Even when I’m stressed, hurting, or falling apart inside, there are very few people who are allowed to see me sweat. Queen spoke this quote while bleeding from a gunshot wound, and while that is an extreme example, it’s still indicative of how many of us push through the hardest moments of our lives with a strong facade. The Black Superwoman Syndrome comes to mind as a clear example. While this coping mechanism is not exclusive to Black people, there is a certain cultural significance linking this practice to us that is addressed by this quote. So preach, Queen. That’s a word.
“I could die tomorrow; I just wanna leave proof I was here.” -Junior
The characters in Queen & Slim frequently discussed the ideas of legacy and leaving evidence of one’s existence behind in order to be remembered once the physical journey of life ends. I, too, feel that it is important to be mindful and build one’s legacy while growing, evolving, and traveling through life. However, I am learning that it is just as, if not more, important to live in the moment, appreciate every experience, take moments to be emotionally free, and create a living legacy of having an enjoyable life. Whether it’s pursuing new interests or opening yourself up to the possibility of new relationships and/or love, living every day to its fullest is just as important as making sure you leave something behind for others to carry on your name. There must be balance between actually living and preventing oneself from becoming consumed by gathering proof that one lived. What’s the point of spending so much time leaving things behind if you miss out enjoying the time you’re given?
“Y’all really gave n****s something to believe in. We needed that.” – Driver
I’m conflicted by this quote now because of the speaker’s connection to the main couple, but despite my feelings, I think it still serves as a symbolic example of the collective hope, pride, and optimism that radiates through our community when we are rooting for someone to successfully overcome an obstacle that suppresses us all. As they rushed to evade the law that would persecute them for defending themselves, Queen & Slim became symbols of courage and power, whether they intended to or not. People invested hope in them, praying that of all the people wronged by law enforcement, these would be the two to get away with standing up for themselves. It speaks to the emotions we carry when similar things happen in real life; we see past the striking headlines to understand that everyone who is criminalized publicly is not automatically a proven criminal and that there is often much more to a story than meets the eye. We have to be careful with this, however, to prevent from clouding our discernment in situations where people may actually be guilty.
Overall, Queen & Slim was a poignant film for the times in which we are living, and serves as a great vessel highlighting issues that young Black Americans continue to face. If you’ve seen it, leave a comment about your favorite moments or how it made you feel. If you haven’t, I encourage you to give it a try. Here’s to supporting and discussing Black films now and forever.