By Azu Ishiekwene
I first watched the movie in the lockdown. At the beginning, it was funny when the pair was fiddling with their entrée in the restaurant and wondering why they had both avoided each other until now.
A few minutes after they left the restaurant, trouble started. The movie, entitled “Queen & Slim,” is the love story of two black Americans drawn to each other by tragedy even before their love story began.
Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya), were driving home from their date when a white police officer flagged down their car for a minor traffic offence. In the testy, racially charged atmosphere, the lone white police officer shot at Queen as she tried to come down from the passenger side, hitting her leg.
Slim, who had already been profiled and was being frisked by the officer behind the car, feared that his date may have been fatally shot. He tackled the officer whose gun fell in the process. Slim got the gun first and as he scrambled up, he shot the white police officer who died in a pool of his own blood a few minutes later.
What next? An argument immediately broke out in my living room as it well might have happened in many homes around the world wherever this horrific scene was watched.
I said the right thing was for Slim to call the police and immediately report what had happened. He had acted in fear and panic during the scuffle, with no intention to kill. But once the deed was done the full weight of the incident left him stricken and confused.
Queen, his companion and black lawyer who was already bleeding from the gunshot wound, asked Slim to get off the ground and jump into the car so they could get away fast. I thought that was wrong and screamed for Slim to call the police, as if he could hear me.
My son, 26, replied that he didn’t think Slim should report. Why, I turned towards him, puzzled! Because a black man in his shoes in America might not get away from that scene alive, if he called the police immediately. And not only him, his injured companion too, would be lucky to leave the scene alive, once the police arrive.
At the end of the movie – a tale of dangerous living, adventure, love, fatal heroism and betrayal – you are in no doubt at all that racism is still alive, well and prospering in the US.
Although a white cop was undeservedly at the receiving end of the bullet at the beginning of the movie, by the time it ends, Queen & Slim turns out to be only a modified version of what the world witnessed on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, last week.
It’s a narrative that has blurred any distinction between fiction and reality; a narrative replete in movie adaptations such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, produced long before Queen & Slim was even conceived.
In America, life imitates movies. And in Hollywood, the life of blacks and minorities imitates movies in a horrifyingly real way that it’s sometimes difficult to separate life from movies or movies from life.
As I watched the video of George Floyd handcuffed and Derek Chauvin dug his knee into Floyd’s neck, life ebbing away as Floyd begged to breathe, I understood why Queen urged her companion to flee the crime scene in that movie, when it was clearly the wrong thing to do. In America, it appears your life doesn’t matter, if you’re black.
And watching President Donald Trump emerge from the bunker in the White House on Monday only to deploy the National Guard in teargassing protesters so that he could have a photo op with a borrowed bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church across the White House, the unintended message was that Floyd won’t be the last victim of racial bigotry in the US.
Think, for a moment, what would be happening now if Floyd was white, the police officer black, and Barrack Obama was still president.
After just one opening sentence of remorse for Floyd, President Trump had plenty to say about law and order, about professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, rider rioters, Antifa and others. You could see that his speech was exactly where his heart was: with his white, right-wing base.
He even went back 213 years in time to invoke the insurrection act deploying the National Guard, when the other three accomplices in Floyd’s murder have still not been charged. Trump’s America is worse than anything I have seen in a banana republic. With him, it promises worse. If America lived racism in whispers and pretense before, Trump’s presidency has put it on open display and he’s doubling down.
Had the scenes from cities across the US in the last few days been from Venezuela, Papua New Guinea or some corner of Africa, a section of the US press would have had a lot to say, with reel after reel of footage on how bad leadership, human rights violations and police brutality had brought the country in question to its knees. Memes of the Statute of Liberty in tears would have flooded the internet.
A group of bipartisan US legislators would even have proposed a bill for the review of US relationship with such a country, while dire warnings of American reprisals would echo at the Capitol Hill. American hypocrisy can be impatient and relentless, except when the US is the man in the mirror as it has been these past few days.
Sure, Nigeria has had its own moments of shame in the last few days, too. The senseless killing by the police of the 17-year-old Justina Ezekwe; the rape and murder of undergraduate Vera Uwaila Omozuwa inside a church where she was studying; and the continuing reports of widespread killings in Kajuru, southern Kaduna almost in a cavalier manner while government appears like a bystander, are all truly heartbreaking.
These incidents are a reproach, a continuing blemish on the record of President Muhammadu Buhari whose strongest point when he ran for the presidency was the promise fix insecurity.
We can’t get used to violent killings and senseless murders as normal. The world should rightly be outraged wherever it happens, especially when those elected to protect citizens are complicit.
From the recent turn of events in the US, Trump appears to be acquiring exceptional notoriety for stoking the flames with a growing suicidal streak that makes any moral equivalence pointless. The world may have laughed him off, and even ignored him as a maverick, but now it really needs to worry.
It needs to worry because the rise of Trump propped and sustained by dangerous right-wing multibillionaires and their media interests is affecting not only the US, but also creating fertile breeding grounds in other parts of the world.
In Europe, Hungary’s Viktor Orban excites his base by treating immigrants like viruses; while in Britain a remnant of institutional order managed, even in defeat, to restrain the Brexit mob led by Nigel Farage and Prime Minister Boris Johnson from a dangerous frenzy of nationalism and xenophobia.
Thanks to Trump-myelitis, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are testing the limits of democracy and yet it would not matter if they were not doing so at the expense of individual liberties and the lives of citizens. But who can question them now, when the US, the city on the hill, has become a spectacularly bad example?
With US streets more militarised than Chinese streets during Tiananmen Square, Trump may as well finish off what he has started by leaving troops to roam till after the election in November. That way, he can be sure to win again without Russia remotely in the picture.
Then, President Justin Trudeau would know that Canada’s southern neighbours have just traded places with Kim Jong Un, Queen & Slim would win an Oscars, and all pretenses to the US being a democracy would be well and truly over.
Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-in-Chief of The Interview