I saw Queen & Slim (Q&S) and liked it but had some major issues with it. However what intrigued me the most about the movie wasn’t their ride to freedom, but the rides, themselves. There were six distinct automobiles that Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) were in that made me use a different lens to view the film (I saw it twice). If you don’t know by now, I think in hip-hop. So, as I watched Q&S and listened to the film score, I couldn’t help but think of the article “‘Can’t C Me’: Surveillance and Rap Music” by Erik Nielson, which used 2Pac’s “Can’t C Me” to argue how Black Americans, more specifically rappers, use cars for (in)visibility to evade the police. Hop in, let me take you on a ride.
“The car has always been an important symbol of wealth and mobility in African American culture…” Erik Nielson
The White Honda Accord
Religion is a major theme throughout this film. From conversations and prayers to rosaries hanging from the review mirror of cars, to crosses hanging in bedrooms and morgues. The first car of Q&S journey is Slim’s white (a symbol of purity) Honda Accord. Slim, a God-fearing man, license plate reads: TRUST GOD. How much more obvious can it be?
Hondas are Japanese cars and to me it represented the “outsider” or the “other” in America unlike a European foreign whip (But I will get to that later). Despite acclimating to the whiteness of America and having faith in God, Q&S were still targeted by the oppressive state. The white car mirrored its owner; an innocent outsider in America. Therefore, they couldn’t avoid the gaze (re: surveillance) because by default they were seen as other. So, no matter how much Slim complied the officer wanted some smoke…until he got (accidentally) smoked.
The Ford Pick-up Truck
They go on the run until they run out of gas and have to flag down a vehicle. Slim hoped the person was Black, Queen warned that just because the person is Black doesn’t make it a good thing. An initially unsuspecting off-duty sheriff volunteered to give them a ride to the gas station. Things go left and they end up with the truck but forget their wallets in the Honda. Smh. They find some money in the glove compartment of the truck and get a little boy to buy them food from a mom-n- pop joint. The boy’s father recognize them and tells them how much he appreciates what they are doing…
This. Is. America. For survival purposes, they “abandon” the Honda and steal the Ford (read: acclimate). Metaphorically, the pick-up truck is the burden of being Black in America. Not everyone carries this intersectional burden the same way, but it does exist regardless of where you live in America. Moreover, there are other factors that impact this burden such as “succeeding.” For example, Q&S learned that they were “heroes” from the Black father, who raised his fist to salute them. They were on the lam, and at one point had to process how their actions affected Black America. It kind of reminds me of the weight of immigrant parents hopes and dreams on their first-generation children who have difficulty navigating through systemic oppression of various institutions. Or maybe I’m projecting—maybe. Anyways, they were broke. So, they had to “rob” a gas station, but hey, “it’s the American way.” Word to Nino Brown. What do I mean? Historically, getting things in America was done by money and violence. Think about it.
The PONTIAC Catalina
Next is my favorite car of the journey, the blue Pontiac Catalina which meandered in and out of the white gaze in Queen and Slim’s journey, which makes it the most complex. When they reach to New Orleans to see Queen’s uncle, Earl (Bookeem Woodbine), there is an unmasking that is done via conversation and hair cutting, but I am getting ahead of myself…Q&S need a plan to escape and decide on fleeing to Cuba. Queen gives Uncle Earl a list of demands including one of his cars because he owes her. Goddess (Indya Moore), one of the ladies of the residence suggested the Catalina, the blue car. Uncle Earl didn’t hesitate to correct her and says: It’s turquoise!
He argued that its’ visibility would draw attention, but Queen’s counter-argument is that by standing out, they will fit in because no one is suspecting two people running from the law to be in a bright, big blue car. With reluctance, Uncle Earl agreed to let go and give them the Catalina.We later learn from Goddess aka Goddy that Uncle Earl “ain’t shit” in the streets, but inside of their house, he is king. And an extension of his kingdom would be his car, hence his attachment.
The outlaws get haircuts and Slim starts to learn why his Tinder date-turned-accomplice is so cold and distant…And as fate would have it, they needed to leave Uncle Earl sooner than expected as the Ford pick-up truck drew suspicion from NOPD. In the early morning, they take the truck to a desolate location and they burn it. Metaphorically, they were letting go of the weight they were carrying, just like their haircuts. Uncle Earl and Goddy bid them farewell and we see Queen soften and tell Uncle Earl she loves him.
“Here and elsewhere, the car becomes another example of the tension between seeking attention and trying to avoid it: It is large, colorful, and (when appropriately waxed) gleaming, and with its stereo bumping, incredibly loud and difficult to ignore, yet the driver and its occupants often remain unidentifiable.” Erik Nielson
For those of a certain age, in the Black community, Pontiac is the acronym for Poor Ol’ Ni–a Think It’s A Cadillac. The Cadillac (which is driven later in the movie) back in the day was the crème de la crème of automobiles. It’s a symbol of “you made it,” but if you couldn’t afford it, Pontiac was a more affordable option.
The white gaze was temporarily blinded by the turquoise Catalina, which allowed Q&S to go unnoticed across state lines because according to the logics, no one on the run does it with such flair, but in America, we don’t see it that way. As they continue on their journey, the couple spotted horses grazing Queens tells Slim that her uncle said that white men hated black men on horses because they had to look up to them. Slim gets hyped and decided he wants to ride one for the first time. He does so before the owner starts yelling at them and they have to run. Day turns to night and Slim hears live music and wants to dance. They go to the source of the music; a bar called the Underground playing live Mississippi blues. With some cajoling, Slim gets Queen to dance with him for their “second date” and promises to buy her a drink. They connect through music and dancing. Queen asks for her drink in which Slim obliged. The bartender informed Slim that the drinks were on the house, she (and others) knew who they were and that they were safe. Initially Q&S panicked, but then let it go and continued dancing till they were ready to go. (They should have never left.)
As they continued to Uncle Earl’s friend house, the Catalina breaks down. Slim had to push the car to a mechanic shop in broad daylight and no one notices them. Again, they are recognized by the mechanic, but nothing here is on the house. The mechanic gets his son, Junior, to take them on a walk. There is a conversation about memory, being loved and immortality. When they return, the Catalina is ready to go, but before they peel off, Slim wants to take a pic to be remembered by.
Benz Station Wagon aka The Foreign
They pull up to Uncle Earl’s friend, Mr. Shepherd (Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers!) home and across the street is a white woman on her porch being nosey—we know how this is going to play out. Uncle Earl’s friend knows a guy with a plane that will help them get to Cuba. As they ate dinner, SWAT surrounded the house and Q&S had to go into hiding. They get cabin fever from their hiding spot and decide to leave, but they know that police are outside and have to figure out a way. After a crazy stunt and a dislocated shoulder, they found a Benz in a garage, but no key. Slim used to steal his dad’s Accura without a key back in the day and after a few tries with a screwdriver they got the car to start. With a little help from an unlikely ally, they were able to evade the police. After some driving along the coastline, Queen slides out of the window holds onto the car with one hand and lets the other hand go free—something she has always wanted to do. She is liberated…and wants Slim to feel the same—so they switch places. However, Slim isn’t as graceful and almost falls out the car so Queen has to drive slow for him to get the same effect. Night is upon them again, Queen requests a story from Slim and then they both knock out.
“2Pac’s power is derived from his invisibility—he establishes control over his own image by denying everyone else’s access to it.” Erik Nielson
The car that they steal is an old Benz station wagon—a Benz, nevertheless…This is when the concept of this piece kicks in. Slim was determined that with or without the key, they were riding. After a while, foreign (read: German) luxury cars including the Mercedes Benz and the BMW replaced American cars and become king for Blacks and many Americans. Have you ever heard of the “Black Man’s Wish”? However, it’s not easily (economically) accessible to (Q&S) us, and if we want it—we will get it just may take a little longer (shout to my dad and his one-time foreign, “Big Boy”). These cars are about status and mobility. And so, we watch how Queen easily adapted to the status and mobility sitting outside of the window, while Slim struggled before he was able to adjust. The terms “acting brand new” and “don’t know how to act” speaks to this scene when some—not all Blacks—start experiencing change in status and mobility like Slim. Before, I play myself, Queen sitting outside the car window was about being liberated and evading the gaze and its consequences. She was breathing and “acting brand new” in a good way. However, the fact that she does it in the Benz, goes back to those who climb the financial and social ladder, to evade poverty and can handle it.
It’s nighttime now. They don’t know where they are, but they think they are close to their destination. They wake up to a Black guy with a sawed off shotty and mouth full of gold teeth. Slim asks if he knew the Shepherds. The guy doesn’t give straight answers, but isn’t mean and says that he can help them. They go back to Goldmouth’s trailer where he arranges for them to get a plane for the next day. Slim insists that they need the plane the same day. Goldmouth makes another call and tells Q&S that they can get a plane in an hour and drives them in a Cadillac. This is the first time neither Queen or Slim drove. They are no longer in control. Goldmouth tells them how paranoid he would be and how he has to watch his back from the police and his own people. They get to the plane and it’s a set up. They die a poetic death.
OK, Let’s talk cars (yes, this transition is jarring, you’ll live to tell about it). The Cadillac in its’ prime was the dream car before the Benz and the Pontiac. It was made as an residual outcome of Henry Ford and his team, but got into a dispute with the auto company and left. Ford and ’em then went onto create Ford Company and the Model T car which was affordable to all due to production (the things you learn when you’re a communications major!). The Pontiac is the U.S. Polo Association of the Cadillac, but nevertheless cars are important as status pieces in the Black community.
“…in his 1963 autobiography, for example, Malcolm X frequently notes the iconographic status of the Cadillac in the Black community, and the importance of cars generally is readily observable in Black music and popular culture throughout the decades leading up to hip hop.” Erik Nielson
I don’t like the ending at all, but I’m not mad at the very end because Goldmouth has internalized the American ideology of individualism—everyone for themselves in their pursuit of justice, liberty and happiness. I get it. It’s what rappers have been warning us about for years. It’s also what Queen foreshadowed the first time they ran out of gas. As mentioned earlier, money and violence are staples that keep this country functioning the way it does and Goldmouth definitely subscribes to that notion. He saw an opportunity to get paid and took it. The American state knows this: Everyone has a price (S/O to CJ and Martense). Someone wanted and will try to get that $500,000 if the opportunity presented itself. Why not Goldmouth? Cause he Black? Nah fam, he’s American before he’s Black. In the words of Casanova, “I hope that didn’t go over your heads.”
The final ride is in Black hearse which is self-explanatory. On the way to the funeral home they are met with signs and sadness. (This, however, is disrupted by Uncle Earl in a fly ass black fur over a Sean John sweat suit that luxuriously sways as he adjusts it. For a fraction of a second, you forget about Q&S.) The community comes out to say their farewell to the couple who for even a moment gave them hope and are immortalized as the couple who took their destiny in their hands. I hate the romanticizing of it, but that’s what it was.
And f–k the world cause I’m cursed, I’m havin visions
of leavin here in a hearse, God can you feel me?
Take me away from all the pressure, and all the pain
“Shed So Many Tears,” 2Pac
Catalina, Life after Death
The aftermath of Q&S’s death is their immortality. Like Jadakiss said, dead rappers get better promotion and that was the level they were on. A huge mural of the picture that Q&S took at the mechanic shop is plastered on the side of not just any building, but a church. They are on t-shirts of little boys with hoop dreams. This is the legacy of Queen, Slim and Uncle Earl’s Catalina.
Well, thanks for riding with me, I appreciate you. This could have been longer, but I have things to do to make sure that the future Queens & Slims grow old and are still immortalized.
Peace and love.