Roadtrips to Legacy (Queen & Slim vs. Frozen 2 – Who Wore It Better?)

When it comes to moviegoing, I’m a feast or famine kind of girl. My AMC A-List membership is either struggling to keep up or gathering dust. This Thanksgiving week, I was on feast mode. On Tuesday night, I agreed to sit through Frozen 2 for the sake of two of my friends, and on Wednesday I happily caught a late-night showing of Queen and Slim, for the culture. Two very different movies entered with wildly different expectation levels and left with wildly different reactions. One of them moved me with a surprisingly deft handling of difficult cultural history while the other one, Queen and Slim, left me cold. 

When Frozen was released in 2013, I was not a fan. It’s possible I waited too long to see it and hearing so many rave reviews burdened me with insurmountably high expectations. I only saw it once. And that was enough. It didn’t live up to the hype for me. My next interaction with Frozen was in 2017 as the interloping, overly long short before Coco. Once again, not a fan. Frozen 2 was nothing I was looking forward to, but friends wanted to see it, so I made my reservation with no expectations and no idea (or real interest in) what the sisters of Arendelle would be getting into. 

I was excited about Queen and Slim. As a Black woman, I was excited to support the work of Black women. From the trailer and promotional campaign, I knew what the premise of the film was, but had no idea how it would play out or how it would end. The possibility that it could end tragically, didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. Heavy themes can be handled well when handled well. Not with perfection, but with perspective. Just ask Princess Anna. In one of the heavier moments of Frozen 2, she grapples with what it is to face loss alone. By that point, I was holding the hand of my friend who is just two years shy of losing her mother. Holding my breath and hoping they wouldn’t botch it, wouldn’t lead the audience into a cave it couldn’t be bothered to show them a way out of. Because they could have done whatever they wanted — they knew they had us. Long before any of us settled into in our assigned seats, they knew they had us. Frozen was a juggernaut, Frozen 2 was not going to be a flop. It didn’t matter what the story was and for the opening weekend, it wasn’t even going to matter if it was good — the audience was built in and it was going to show up. I didn’t even like Frozen and I was there, no questions asked. Just like they knew I would be. 

The team behind Queen and Slim knew I would be there too. The promotional campaign was strong and effective: this is an important movie (a new classic!), brought to you by important creators with something important to say, to people already familiar with caves. About caves? Question mark. I don’t know. The built-in audience for Queen and Slim was going to be significantly smaller than the one for Frozen 2, but significantly more prepared to be challenged. I was ready to be challenged. I was not ready for one of the challenges to be figuring out what this challenging movie was trying to say. And why. And to who. Queen and Slim knew exactly who would be showing up to see them but didn’t seem to have anything specific to say to them. So, it stylishly and sluggishly recapped things that have been said before, including, but not limited to: Tinder is a crapshoot. Being Black in America is a crapshoot. White people are cray. Black is beautiful. Love is complicated. Family is complicated. Life is complicated. Gas is expensive. You’re always hungry. You never listen. Cops are people. Black people are people. It be your own people. Your legacy matters. And we are oceans away from freedom? 

Strangely enough, both movies involved attempts to cross large bodies of water for purposes of securing the future. Both reckoned along the way with history’s effect on present day journeys. Both featured orphans trying to make sense of their legacies. But only one left me feeling hopeful about mine. And it was the one that didn’t have to. 

Barring some insane natural disaster or apocalyptic media misstep Frozen 2 knew everybody in the world was coming to see them. They could have continued the stories of Elsa and Anna in any direction, could have said settled on a story that said anything, including nothing at all. They chose to dive headfirst into issues of revisionist history and mistrust between people groups. Not with perfection — yes, there is some very convenient whatever-the-opposite-of-white-washing-is to the background of two extremely umm… blue-eyed princesses and significant smacks of white savior-ism; but with perspective — nimbly introducing the idea that history and truth are not automatically synonymous and that truth matters more. In a country being pulled apart by people desperately opposed to reckoning with the truth of our history, for Frozen to intentionally drop that seed was a revolutionary act that said we’re all lost, but not all is lost. The paradigm shift Queen and Slim was loudly promising, Frozen 2 quietly delivered better on. 

Both stories were fictional, one was animated and the other one was unreal. Maybe that’s why it left me so reluctant to try and state what its message is. Gun to my head, I would say the message is that Black people are both beautiful and endangered from all angles. And I believe that. I knew that before Queen and Slim. It’s evident. Unquestionable, I thought, until I saw it so clumsily transcribed through improbable scenarios, questionable decisions and inconsistent urgency. It couldn’t convince me of something I already believed, but maybe it wasn’t for me. A few hours ago, my friend texted “I still can’t believe how Frozen came for me.” Days later, I’m still unsure who Queen and Slim came for. Maybe it’s you. But just in case it leaves you cold, Frozen 2 is standing by to warm you up in ways it really didn’t have to.

Tell your friends. 

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

A Quiet Place: An Extremely White Parable of Black Life

Left to my own devices, I NEVER would have seen A Quiet Place. But as the designated plus-one of a friend in the industry, it was my duty to attend the screening premiere, so I did. With great fear and trembling. Horror movies are not my cup of tea. When I went to see Get Out last year, (with great fear and trembling, dragging equally reluctant friends along) I was only doing it for the culture. And I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. The fear stoking was expected, the thought-provoking was not. But there must be something in the water because the kids these days are Making Horror Movies Great Again. (Says I, with my completely inadequate knowledge of the history of horror movies, but I digress…) 

A Quiet Place is a white movie. It is so white that it just touched my hair. The closest we get to a person of color is when John Krasinski’s character tries futilely to reach out to Japan in Morse code. But it’s fine. It makes sense – the whole film is centered on one family and this one family happens to be white.  And what is this white family doing? They are trying to survive after earth has been overrun by mysterious and (seemingly) invincible monsters who hunt by sound.  In order to stay safe, they need to stay quiet. 

Does that remind you of anything? Anyone? Any certain people? No? 

It took me a while, too. Mostly because I was annoyed with choices made by the family in the opening scenes. As a family of five (mom, dad, 3 kids) they are out on a post-apocalyptic shopping trip – all barefoot, tiptoeing through emptied streets and deserted stores, communicating with looks and sign language. We quickly figure out that quiet is key, but we don’t know why yet. And it’s not exactly clear how quiet they need to be or how high the stakes, because the youngest of the children is given, what is in my opinion, a nonsensical amount of freedom to run around – grabbing and very nearly knocking a loud toy off a shelf.  Then later, when walking home, in a formation that is SO STUPID it can only be ascribed to plot contrivance; the little troublemaker makes a noise that sets off a sequence of events that reveals how very high the stakes actually are. And how imperative their silence is to their survival. 

But, I’ll be honest, I initially felt more apathy than empathy for that oblivious little kid, because if he would have just followed what he was told and kept quiet instead of acting like… any normal child would under normal circumstances… wait… do you hear it yet? 

If he had just been quiet, if he had just complied… 

Alright, this isn’t a quiet place, so I’m going to stop tiptoeing – in their relationship with the thing endangering them, the white people in this movie aren’t seen (the monsters are blind) and are safer the less they’re heard. The white people in this movie live in a reality where reasonable sounds and reactions can result in unreasonable danger and death. The white people in this movie might as well be Black people in America. 

It’s the fear of not being able to protect your children from a rather brutal environment.

Emily Blunt (on the underlying theme of A Quiet Place)

A Quiet Place is a white movie. It is so white, that for a moment, I felt White. For a moment, I understood the ambivalence toward victims of America’s monsters. I didn’t blame them for the presence of the monsters, but I did, fault them for not being better at playing by the rules of the monsters. But only for a moment. When there a came a point where we as the audience realized the monster had a weakness, but the white people didn’t know yet I turned to my friend and whispered “They need to hurry up and figure this out.” Because I was invested. I wanted the people to triumph. No one should have to live in constant quiet dread of monsters. 

But I’m not convinced White America is truly invested in finding and revealing the weaknesses of our monsters. Their children aren’t the ones in perpetual danger. 

Anyway, A Quiet Place is beautifully shot (shout out to upstate New York); with hardly any dialogue the acting is fantastic (everybody does a phenomenal job but Emily Blunt is a BEAST) and a few plot holes/contrivances aside, it’s scarily enjoyable and thoroughly thought-provoking. It invites the viewer to imagine how they’d fare in a world where being heard comes with a high risk of being harmed. And perhaps, taking it a step further, to ponder, who they more actively sympathize with in the real world – the silenced or the monsters? 

A Quiet Place is an extremely White movie that is an accidentally accurate parable of Black life. So even if you’re not horror fan, it’s definitely worth seeing.  Do it for the culture.

Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.

For White Pastors Who Want to Plant In Wakanda

“I think you’re wrong. But I love you, so I’ll take it down. 
But you don’t think Wakanda is for white people. And you need to own that.” 

White Pastor

That was one of the last texts I received from white pastor friend of mine after I asked him to take down whimsical snap announcing a Wakanda campus of his church. I thanked him for taking it down and because I didn’t want there to be any misunderstanding on my thoughts about white people and Wakanda, I addressed his suspicion of my underlying feelings. 

“I own it completely: I don’t think Wakanda is for white people.” 

And I don’t. Because it’s not. And let me say it one more time for the people in the back (who in this particular case are the people in the pulpit): Wakanda is not for white people. 
Look, I get it. Black Panther is what’s hot right now. And not for nothing. It is not only a stunning piece of cinema (a “marvel” if you will), but with Black Excellence on display from top to bottom, it is a moment. We can all see that. And we can (and should!) all enjoy it – multiple times, by all means. But we can’t all own it. 
Wakanda Forever. But not for everyone. 

As a Black person who lives in and loves a country that, historically, has not loved me back and still refuses to fully admit to its injustice and inequity, past and present;  Wakanda is a fantastic vision of an alternate timeline – not where white people don’t exist, but where they have not encroached.  And yet my friend’s first instinct, as a white pastor, was to immediately inject his leadership and write his name on something there.  Nah homie. Or in the words of Shuri: 

Don’t sneak up on me, Colonizer. 

So for white pastors who would love to plant in Wakanda or just want to talk about it sensibly from the platform, I’m going to ask you two questions and then give you one suggestion. Ready 

1. What is it that you like about Wakanda? 
a. Its technology 
b. Its Black leadership 
c. The Dora Milaje 
d. All of the above 
e. Other: ________________________________ 

Okay. Cool. Now… 

2. How would your presence improve whatever your answer to #1 was? 

What’s that? Yeah… that’s what I thought. It mostly likely wouldn’t, right? Because you don’t want to go to Wakanda for Wakanda’s sake, you want to be there for your sake. And whether it’s to learn from or straight up take what you like for yourself, there’s a word for that, several words actually depending on the severity, but at its most basic level it’s appropriation. And if nowhere in your burning desire to get to Wakanda or to speak about it from your platform is there any recognition for the significant role that the absence of white people played in the magnificence of it all, then you’re not actually ready to be there. So consider yourself travel banned for now. 

But it’s not all bad news. Look again at that list in question #1 – Wakanda might be fictional, but not everything on that list is. Why not try incorporating the real things you liked about Wakanda in your church here and now? Because I know it wasn’t just the technology that you liked…  So ask yourself the hard questions about where people of color find themselves in world of your church. Think about your congregation – the mix of races, ages, genders, life stages, etc. – who do the decision-makers around your leadership table more closely resemble: your congregation or you? You don’t have to answer. I can take a pretty good guess at the answer for your church, White Pastor that I don’t know. 

Wakanda, for a good many Black people, is a vision of escape from the day-to-day reality of the otherness, disdain and disregard that we face in the real world. And functioning as it should, as an imperfect preview of Heaven, the church should already feel like Wakanda on some level. But this all sprung from a social media post on a social media platform that I don’t even use. Sent to me by someone who attends my pastor friend’s church and was upset by it; because the sad fact is that his church, (and most likely your church), as great and diverse as it may look on the surface, and as wonderful as it may be for some, is nothing that we’d want to see in Wakanda. And nothing that Wakanda needs. Praise the ancestors. 

Want to ponder this topic some more? You should check out… 
This Article. A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshippers are leaving White Evangelical Churches  
This Book. The Divide: Spoken Word Unspokens on Racial Rifts 
This Book. The Politics of Jesus 

Tell your friends.

Janice Lagata was born in California, but born for New York. A writer, fighter, igniter and matron saint of cats; smirking is her favorite. She’s just a girl feeding herself to the world and asking it to love her – that’s a lyric from a song she wrote, you can probably find it and lots of other things she’s working on by asking the internets (insta/twitter/soundcloud/spotify/youtube/your mom) for @jani_the_cat.