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.