Buddies, Lovers, and Detours: America and its Road Movies


Is an open road also a democratic one? Zooming in on two films—Queen & Slim (2019) and Unpregnant (2020)—this article discusses American road movie genre from the perspective of 2021, and how contemporary film narratives intersect with race and gender. One movie often drives in another film’s lane, meaning the genre is self-referential. Unfolding in three parts, the article begins by introducing these two films and surveying how they contribute to the road movie genre. It then discusses cars and clothing as characters and concludes by considering surveillance and how these films, in tandem, take the temperature of contemporary American society.


film; road movie; mobility; police brutality

Allen, Maya. “Queen & Slim’s Costume Designer and Hairstylist on the Film’s Powerful Imagery.” Marie Claire, 13 December 2019, https://www.marieclaire.com/beauty/a30188862/queen-and-slim-shiona-turnini-brian-badie-interview/. Accessed 1 Dec. 2021.

Badlands. Terrence Malick, Warner Bros., 1973.

Bonnie and Clyde. Arthur Penn, Warner Bros., 1967.

Boys Don’t Cry. Kimberly Peirce, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 1999.

Easy Rider. Dennis Hopper, Columbia Pictures, 1969.

“Formation.” YouTube, uploaded by Beyoncé, 9 December 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDZJPJV__bQ. Accessed 1 Dec. 2021.

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Translated by Constance Garnett, Dover Publications, 2001.

Do the Right Thing. Spike Lee, Universal Pictures, 1989.

Gilroy, Jhon Warren. “Another Fine Example of the Oral Tradition? Identification and Subversion in Sherman Alexie’s Smoke Signals.” Studies in American Indian Literatures, vol. 13, no. 1, 2001, pp. 23–42.

Gopnik, Adam. “The Driver’s Seat.” New Yorker, 26 January 2015, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/02/02/drivers-seat. Accessed 1 Dec. 2021.

Hart, Lynda. “‘Til Death Do Us Part: Impossible Spaces in Thelma and Louise.” Journal of the History of Sexuality vol. 4, no. 3, 1994, pp. 430–446.

Hurault-Paupe, Anne. “The Paradoxes of Cinematic Movement: Is the Road Movie a Static Genre?” Miranda vol. 10, 2014, pp. 1–15.

Hutchinson, Kashema. “Queen & Slim: The Rides.” Kashema, 10 December 2019, https://kashema.com/2019/12/10/queen-slim-the-rides/. Accessed 1 Dec. 2021.

Kelley, Sonayia. “Lena Waithe and Melina Matsoukas don’t want you comparing ‘Queen & Slim’ to ‘Bonnie and Clyde.’” LA Times, 30 October 2019, https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2019-10-30/queen-and-slim-melina-matsoukas-lena-waithe. Accessed 1 Dec. 2021.

Klinger, Barbara. “The Road to Dystopia: Landscaping the Nation in Easy Rider.” The Road Movie Book, edited by Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark. Routledge, 1997, pp. 179–203.

Laderman, David. Driving Visions: Exploring the Road Movie. University of Texas Press, 2002.

Leong, Ian, Mike Sell, and Kelly Thomas. “Mad Love, Mobile Homes, and Dysfunctional Dicks.” The Road Movie Book, edited by Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark. Routledge, 1997, pp. 70–89.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Eliza Hittman, Focus Features, 2020.

Nielson, Erik. “‘Can’t C Me’: Surveillance and Rap Music.” Journal of Black Studies vol. 40, 2010, pp. 1254–1274.

McGettigan, Joan. “Interpreting a Man’s World: Female Voices in Badlands and Days of Heaven.” Journal of Film and Video vol. 52, no. 4, 2001, pp. 33–43.

Peebles, Stacey. “Gunning for a New Slow Motion: The 45-Degree Shutter and the Representation of Violence.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 56, no. 2, 2004, pp. 45–54.

Queen & Slim. Melina Matsoukas, Universal Pictures, 2019.

Sharp, William. “Film Review: Matsoukas, M. (Director/Producer), Waithe, L. (Screenplay/Producer), & Frey, J. (Story by). Queen & Slim [Motion Picture]. Universal Pictures, 2019. Running Time, 2 hours and 12 minutes.” Journal of African American Studies, vol. 42, 2020, pp. 297–301.

Schewe, Elizabeth. “Highway and Home: Mapping Feminist-Transgender Coalition in Boys Don’t Cry.” Feminist Studies vol. 40, no. 1, 2014, pp. 39–64.

Seiler, Cotten. “‘So That We as a Race Might Have Something Authentic to Travel By’: African American Automobility and Cold-War Liberalism.” American Quarterly vol. 58, no. 4, 2006, pp. 1091–1117.

Smoke Signals. Chris Eyre, Miramax, 1998.

Sorin, Gretchen. Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights. Liveright, 2020.

Thelma & Louise. Ridley Scott, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1991.

Tillis, Antonio D., and Emmanuel Harris, editors. The Trayvon Martin in US: An American Tragedy. Peter Lang, 2014.

Tinsley, Omise’eke. Beyoncé in Formation: Remixing Black Feminism. University of Texas Press, 2018.

Twitty, Michael. The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South. Amistad, 2017.

Unpregnant. Rachel Lee Goldenberg, HBO Max, 2020.

Y Tu Mamá También. Alfonso Cuarón, 20th Century Fox, 2001.

Published : 2021-12-19

GoraS. (2021). Buddies, Lovers, and Detours: America and its Road Movies. Review of International American Studies, 14(2), 103-119. https://doi.org/10.31261/rias.11809

Sasha Gora  sasha.gora@amerikanistik.uni-muenchen.de

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Copyright Holder of the submitted text is the Author. The Reader is granted the rights to use the material available in the RIAS websites and pdf documents under the provisions of the Creative CommonsAttribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0). Any commercial use requires separate written agreement with the Author and a proper credit line indicating the source of the original publication in RIAS.

  1. License

The University of Silesia Press provides immediate open access to journal’s content under the Creative Commons BY 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Authors who publish with this journal retain all copyrights and agree to the terms of the above-mentioned CC BY 4.0 license.

  1. Author’s Warranties

The author warrants that the article is original, written by stated author/s, has not been published before, contains no unlawful statements, does not infringe the rights of others, is subject to copyright that is vested exclusively in the author and free of any third party rights, and that any necessary written permissions to quote from other sources have been obtained by the author/s.

If the article contains illustrative material (drawings, photos, graphs, maps), the author declares that the said works are of his authorship, they do not infringe the rights of the third party (including personal rights, i.a. the authorization to reproduce physical likeness) and the author holds exclusive proprietary copyrights. The author publishes the above works as part of the article under the licence "Creative Commons Attribution - By the same conditions 4.0 International".

ATTENTION! When the legal situation of the illustrative material has not been determined and the necessary consent has not been granted by the proprietary copyrights holders, the submitted material will not be accepted for editorial process. At the same time the author takes full responsibility for providing false data (this also regards covering the costs incurred by the University of Silesia Press and financial claims of the third party).

  1. User Rights

Under the Creative Commons Attribution license, the users are free to share (copy, distribute and transmit the contribution) and adapt (remix, transform, and build upon the material) the article for any purpose, provided they attribute the contribution in the manner specified by the author or licensor.

  1. Co-Authorship

If the article was prepared jointly with other authors, the signatory of this form warrants that he/she has been authorized by all co-authors to sign this agreement on their behalf, and agrees to inform his/her co-authors of the terms of this agreement.

I hereby declare that in the event of withdrawal of the text from the publishing process or submitting it to another publisher without agreement from the editorial office, I agree to cover all costs incurred by the University of Silesia in connection with my application.