When the trailers for “Harriet” first emerged, the consensus was that we have seen enough slave movies. Specifically, the exploitation of Black tragedy for profit has gotten boring. Which is a relatable narrative As a Black person. We continue to be forced to face our mortality head-on. On the news and in the entertainment that is produced for our consumption. In the 80s we saw the emergence of the slave film. The 90s and early aughts saw gang life popularity. Naturally, the current decade segued into movies all about police brutality. “American Son”, “See You Yesterday”, and “Queen & Slim” are three movies that have been marketed to Black people that unnecessarily regurgitate the same story. I am beginning to believe that these films, despite being created or promoted by us, are not necessarily for us. The rest of this post contains spoilers so read at your own risk.
See You Yesterday is a Spike Lee movie about two Black kids that create a time machine. In and of itself, this is a great concept. A Sci-fi film surrounding Black children when we are told that we cannot or do not appreciate STEM. Particularly, kids practicing science in their own free time and not because a teacher required them to. However, it takes a turn when one of the main character’s brother dies at the hands of police brutality and mistaken identity. They begin to use the technology they created to try and change fate. This movie is a cop-out because there is no concrete ending. We are left not knowing if they succeed after their multiple failed attempts. Unfortunately, we still have to deal with the tragedy.
American Son is another Netflix original based on a play. Kerry Washington is a mother looking for her Black son that goes missing. She has to deal with race at a police station and a White cop that is dismissive of her concerns. Layer after layer unfolds and it tells a story about racial hierarchy in civilian life and within the justice system. Great story, right? Wrong. American Son starts off as an eye-opening piece about stereotyping and race relations. All of the discussion they build throughout the film becomes null and void the moment we learn that the son is in fact dead. Murdered by a police officer. Even worse when you consider that the son was dead the entire movie and the officers were buying time because the vehicle was not in her name and because they had to wait for a sheriff to break the news. Once again left to sit with our tragedy.
This brings me to Queen & Slim. A Black Bonnie and Clyde-esque story written by Lena Waithe. Queen and Slim are heading home after a cringe-worthy first date. After a hostile officer pulls them over, draws his gun over zealously, and shoots at Queen, Slim kills the cop in self-defense after a brief tussle. The pair decide to flee the scene and go on the run. Only to be shot up by police at the end of the film after giving us so much hope. I honestly would have preferred to have them die during the traffic stop and save two hours of my time. The film starts in Cleveland. It was special to me that I got to experience it in Cleveland. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen, the theater was completely silent upon the conclusion. Typically, people have their own discussions once credits roll, walking out to the chatter of opinion. I actually love to hear first impressions of a movie while the feelings are fresh. However, not a word was uttered. I am pretty sure the first words I remember hearing were my own after I left the building. I think we were all somewhat confused about what we watched.
So what is the point? Just like in real life, Black people do not get the privilege of a happy ending. Why should we continue to waste our time and money to relentlessly be told we have no hope in this country? Black writers constantly repeat that their stories need to be “real” in order to be impactful and that is just not true. The one thing I loved about “Get Out” was that the Black man we invested our time into actually survived. Not only did he survive but he was rescued by his Black friend! “Sorry To Bother You” touched on the topic of code-switching to further your career and the toll that takes on the Black individual and their community before turning into a Sci-fi fantasy. We have experienced so much police brutality in our everyday story. We are a generation that has lived through Philando Castile, Atatiana Jefferson, Sandra Bland, and countless others. Why are we being exposed to it in our entertainment too? Especially if there is no deviation from the reality we know? It is time for more fantastical Black film making. I want to see us have fun, fall in love, but more importantly, I want to see us survive. Let’s have the opportunity to ride off into the sunset. We damn sure deserve to see it, even if it is not realistic.
*I chose not to do a full review of Queen & Slim because I felt two women, in particular, did phenomenal jobs of stating exactly what many of us felt leaving the theater. Please support Jouelzy and Brooke Obie’s content by clicking their names.