In Alex Haley’s 1992 mini-series, Queen, we are presented with a “child of the plantation, just like thousands of others.” For Queen, played by Halle Berry, is a mixed race little girl born of a slave and her master who, we are told, would be better off with her “own people.” But the question of who, exactly, those people are, seems to be an area for exploration in the mind of the titular character.
Queen starts off much like the later film Jefferson in Paris, presenting a relationship that is as light and airy as cotton candy and with the slave, Easter, pursuing her master. It was said that Haley wanted to show a lightheartedness and tenderness to the relationship of Easter and her master, and he got what he wanted. While unnervingly unrealistic, slave and master romp about the plantation and eventually produce a love child named Queen.
Young Queen , who is keenly aware of the difference in the melanin in her skin, in relation to other slaves in her surroundings, grows and is made the handmaid to her half-sister, thus beginning her life as “little miss in between.”
While shown to be educated to a degree and literate, Berry as Queen insists on using a kind of slave-speak so offensive as to be laughable. It is made all the more jarring because no one in her life, that we are shown, speaks this way. This bit of acting choice follows Berry throughout the series and is, I suppose, her way of becoming ‘black’ or ‘slave-y’ enough to come across as said “child of the plantation.” It does not work, and is really the only sticking point, acting wise.
But where Berry succeeds is in giving us a desperate Queen; a Queen so desperate for her white family’s acceptance, she initially refuses to leave the plantation for her own possible betterment. However, after the ravages of the Civil War have destroyed the plantation and left her little choice, she does make good her get away and finds herself a young lady in The Carolinas.
She is befriended by a fellow “high yella” woman, played by Lonnette McKee, who shows her the ways of the world and how to use her whiteness as an advantage. These “high yella” women, who easily pass for white (although they are obvious to each other) are made to use their looks to get by when they possess seemingly little else of value. As McKee’s character points out, “We’re lucky we can choose.” And choose she does. Queen passes with disastrous results, finding that her whiteness is both a blessing and a curse, and eventually finds herself on the road again looking for a home. This is a recurring theme, wayward Queen looking for a home, that is not so subtle in its showing.
After breaking down in a church declaring, “I’s negra! I’s NEGRA!”, Queen is finally shown some compassion from her own people (black people) and her life looks like it’s on the mend. It isn’t long, however, that she is forced from her home, yet again, due to some naive personal choices that leave her alone and with child. On the road again, she is faced with betrayal, the lynching of her baby’s father (which scars her in unspeakable ways) and an obsession with her child that borders on unhealthy.
Queen does eventually find that home she was looking for in the arms of the kindhearted and willing-to-overlook-a-lot-of-issues Alec, played with aplomb by Danny Glover. But even her marital and domestic happiness are marred by her disillusionment when, after the death of,her father, she makes her way ‘home’ to the plantation of her youth. She is cast out, once again, by her father’s hateful wife and seems to finally understand that while she filled space physically in the place, it was never her home.
Ultimately, the series is about self-identity and a yearning to belong. Queen’s personal struggle to find where she fits- a home, both within and outside of her- is relieved with her final revelation that, “home is where you are loved.”