Giorgi and Carly Plys-Garzotto sat down this week to talk about why Queen & Slim is the perfect movie for right now and why black voices in cinema are so important to this particular moment. Below their conversation, you can find a list of movies by black women filmmakers to put in your Netflix queue! As you’ll see, these are all films that FF2 has already reviewed–FF2 Media has been amplifying these voices for as long as we’ve existed, and we’re proud to continue in that mission.
GPG: First, for our readers who haven’t seen Queen & Slim, we’ll give a recap on this phenomenal black-made film before we get into the larger context.
CPG: Queen & Slim really is a must-see film. Director Melina Matsoukas creates a beautiful, moving, and smart piece commenting on race and love in America. It’s a on-the-run story, though the main characters are actually not criminals. When the couple gets pulled over for a minor driving violation, and the situation turns violent with the policeman. Matsoukas banks on the fact that you think you know what’s gonna happen. Because so many people are now aware of police brutality, and that they murder people–specifically people of color. So, you think you know what’s gonna happen when Queen and Slim get pulled over–you know it’s dangerous. But then the movie flips the situation on its head.
GPG: Yes, and in an act of self-defence Queen & Slim survive, but these characters know that the law will not be on their side even if they’re in the right, which is what sends them running. And then they become this Bonnie and Clyde kind of thing–I think Melina Matsoukas actually refers to them as being like Bonnie and Clyde in the movie.
GPG: Absolutely. Watching Queen and Slim was such an intense experience. The two main characters are going through a version of the police brutality struggles that all of black America has to go through every day, in a larger than life narrative. The film creates an epic, a real American epic.
CPG: Yes, it makes heroes out of people who the mass media often depicts in a very villainous way. People who are on the run from the law are classically considered antiheroes in America, but this doesn’t seem to be extended to racial minorities.
GPG: Right! Crime movies like The Godfather idolize white criminals, but there’s a very different lens on movies about black criminals–and that’s just making the comparison with the organized crime genre. I don’t know if there’s ever been a movie like Queen and Slim that makes such a direct attack on white supremacy, and I know there’s no comparable movie with white characters.
CPG: Yeah, it’s funny because Queen and Slim is a radical movie in the tradition of Bonnie and Clyde, but then it’s much more radical than any of the white films that it could be compared to.
GPG: Right! Another great aspect of the film follows them through so many different communities of color that give them support–they’re heroes in many ways.
CPG: It’s awesome, and we were rooting for Queen and Slim throughout. I think this film does a good job of making the viewer realize that police really don’t keep us safe. And that the law is not that helpful, especially to people of color.
GPG: Yes, the people who keep each other safe are a group of grassroots communities that they move through and get help from the people who live there and support them.
CPG: You cannot discuss this film without also discussing the relevance of the themes in the USA today.
GPG: Yes, and we should also start out by acknowledging that we’re both white people talking about this.
CPG: Exactly. It’s important to note that we can only have so much insight.
GPG: Mhmm. We can only really amplify this movie that is Black made, Black starred.
CPG: Yes. Queen & Slim is such a moving film–and right now, so many people are finally feeling the weight that this movie makes you feel–in real life. 2020 has brought a much needed spotlight to some of the biggest problems in our country today.
GPG: Yes. In terms of activism, there are a lot of people I know who are only just now getting into this conversation. I believe the coronavirus, and so many people being cooped up in their homes and under so much stress, I believe this has been an outlet for people. And that’s both good and bad–in the sense that I think a lot of people, white people specifically, are coming out to the protests and being like, “ok, we didn’t get music festivals, but we get this”. That’s not really productive energy.
GPG: But then, the frustration, and the outrage, and the pain, is just a lot more accessible now. And that’s energizing the movement in a way that I haven’t really seen in my lifetime. Except with Fergusson, maybe.
CPG: That’s so true. The fact that this has turned into a global protest is incredible. I think it does have to do with what you’re saying, and I think also being cooped up at home has made so many people reconsider the government and capitalism in general. Because our elected officials are not helping people who need help. People who weren’t worried about job security are not worried about it, paying rent–these problems that a lot of people have always had, now huge numbers of people are affected. And people are realizing, “Oh, my government won’t help me if I’m–”
GPG: “If I’m the wrong category”.
GPG: The coronavirus is highlighting the ways our society’s structures don’t work, just like BLM and Queen and Slim. It’s also so important to remember that the coronavirus is disproportionately impacting communities of color–the embarrassingly bad handling of the coronavirus has been targeting black people in much the same way the police do, with just as deadly results.
CPG: And the two main characters in Queen and Slim clearly can’t go to any kind of authority in American society for help. Some activists are focusing on reforming the police, but the film and the response to the coronavirus shows that there’s just no helping some structures. After all, for-profit healthcare is for profit, like it’s right in the name.
GPG: And the police started out as slave-catchers on the one hand, grew to their institutional status by putting down labor protests in the early 20th century, and militarized as a way to occupy communities of color.
CPG: Yes, and that definitely opening up systems like the Police to more legit questioning.
GPG: Yeah. I’ve never seen celebrities–even the people from Riverdale–saying “abolish the police”.
CPG: Yes! That’s awesome.
GPG: The depicted protests were another point that the movie made about police.
CPG: Yes, and it’s so true that this issue has been going on for so long, and movies on this subject have been being made for so long. It’s not a new problem. At all. But, at least it is finally getting so much attention. It’s a little hopeful.
GPG: Right, it’s kind of like the way the issue grips the nation in the movie is what’s happening now. And when I first saw Queen and Slim in December 2019, I was thinking about how that kind of wide mobilization might be unrealistic for today’s America. But now it is in many ways happening.
CPG: And the way the protests don’t in any way stop the police is pretty telling. Just like with the coronavirus and the BLM protests, there has to be real action by people before anything will really change.
GPG: Yeah. Like if there were a hypothetical epilogue to Queen and Slim, it would show things changing in the future if there was concrete organization toward anti-racism. If white people just sat back and posted pictures of Queen and Slim to their Instagram stories without doing anything, that wouldn’t change anything.
CPG: Yes, which I think highlights the main point both of the virus and of the BLM protests, which is that if no one does anything nothing will get better. People have to organize today, tomorrow, and next year if we’re going to make positive change.
GPG: And the way all these things are interrelated is thrown into even sharper relief watching Queen and Slim, since there’s all these issues with war veterans and PTSD, or the need to support black-owned businesses, that are so clearly interwoven with the overt police violence that threatens black communities.
CPG: Yes, so really the point of Queen and Slim, especially in the context of this global pandemic and civil rights movement, is that activism and engagement are the only ways for people to get anything real done. All these issues are so entangled that the only thing that will make things better for the world is for us all to come together and demand real change.
Here’s a list of Giorgi and Carly’s BLM film recommendations–with a little help from the rest of the FF2 Media team!
Jan Lisa Huttner wrote in her review: “[This] superlative film captures the essence of the three marches lead by Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama which lead to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Ava DuVernay’s Selma is a triumph of Activist Filmmaking. It is not only one of the best films of 2014, it is also one of the most significant films of this decade. Timed for worldwide release in early 2015, exactly fifty years after most of the historical incidents it depicts, Selma arrives in December on selected screens in large American metros even as “Hand Ups, Don’t Shoot,” and “I Can’t Breathe” protests continue on our streets and on our TV screens. Who could have imagined this way back when people in business suits were calculating the ROI of a potential Oscar campaign?”
Jan Lisa Huttner writes (in 2008): “Biopic stars Don Cheadle as “Petey” Greene, a radio DJ who became the voice of Black Washington after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Terrific story, fabulous performances; captures both the man & his times in high-energy mix of comedy & tragedy. Oscar noms NOW for [stars, Don] Cheadle [and Taraji P.] Henson [and director Kasi] Lemmons.”
Lindsy M. Bissonette writes: “When two well-decorated soldiers return home, after fighting in WWII, they are received very differently in their hometown. Set in Mississippi, Mudbound takes us through the struggle between race, class, and two families as they learn to coexist. Or do they? When a friendship between a black solider and a white soldier begins, the whole farm goes red. Directed and co-written by Dee Rees (in collaboration with Virgil Williams), Mudbound is one of the absolute “must-see” films of the 2018 awards cycle.”
Amelie Lasker writes: “Two of the big winners at this year’s Sundance Film Festival addressed the devastating effects of prolonged incarceration on African-American family life. Is this a mere coincidence? I don’t think so. Middle of Nowhere is the story of a woman left behind. When we first meet Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi), her husband Derek (Omari Hardwick) is at the beginning of an 8-year prison sentence. Visualizing Derek’s daily life behind bars is easy; it’s a story already covered by numerous films and TV shows. But Ruby’s life during this period of separation, told here by writer/director Ava DuVernay, is riveting and entirely new.”
Roza Melkyuman writes: When 16-year-old “Starr Carter” (Amandla Stenberg) witnesses the unjust, fatal shooting of her friend at the hands of a police officer, her life is changed forever. Already caught between the worlds of her mostly black neighborhood and her mostly white prep school, Starr must overcome the pressures around her to find her own voice. Based on Angie Thomas’s acclaimed young adult novel of the same name, The Hate U Give is a moving, unforgiving force of nature that explores the humanity that lies underneath political and social controversies regarding the black community.