I was so not on the Girls Trip tip.
In fact, I spent the better part of the movie’s debut weekend cringing at all the Facebook posts, Instagram updates, and Twitter exclamations that went on and on (and on) about how great the movie was.
My initial thoughts: Who in the world is this ratchet Tiffany Haddish? And, more important, when will the entertainment industry stop trying to manufacture yet another Waiting to Exhale?
Please, people, stop throwing well-known black actresses — in Girls Trip, that would be Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Regina Hall — together and peppering their dialogue with lots of “ooh, chile” and “thank you, Jesus” references. And don’t forget to include an untouchable hottie. In Girls Trip, there are two: Larenz Tate and Kofi Siriboe.
Is this all it takes to get black women to flock to the movies?
I’m so glad I didn’t listen to that salty, somewhat misguided part of myself. I went to see Girls Trip last week and thoroughly enjoyed the entirely relatable — if not slightly new-age — tale of friendship and loyalty among modern working women. Girls Trip has earned more than $90 million worldwide, according to the website Box Office Mojo, and is on pace to be the top-grossing live-action R-rated comedy of 2017.
My Girls Trip turnabout got me to thinking: Did I fall victim to respectability politics in entertainment?
Let me explain. Black people have always been sensitive to how we have been portrayed on TV and in the movies, because — let’s face it — we are usually portrayed as one giant monolith of questionable behavior and morals. And thanks to reality TV, we black women have become supersensitive to our media depictions. My particular issue is what I call the NeNe problem: No, we don’t all roll our eyes at the drop of a hat, smack our teeth, and spend more money on our hair than we do on rent.
But there are lots of others. Tyler Perry flicks irk folks because many say the characters are one-dimensional and by and large make black men look bad. We were critical of Scandal because sizzling interracial relationships did not support the black family. Many of my friends didn’t watch Underground because we were oh-so-tired of the slave narrative. And forget about Empire. I’m afraid to update my social media with Cookie-isms because Fox’s hit is considered so ghetto.
“The stakes are really high when it comes to how we are portrayed in the media,” said James Peterson, director of Africana studies and an English professor at Lehigh University. “It’s not that we always want to see upstanding people, but we want to see the full and complex range of human expression. There is an extraordinary proliferation of television shows on so many platforms, but African Americans are still underrepresented, so that is what you are sensitive to.”
Whew. I thought I was just being a snob.
My issue was with the way I perceived that black women would be depicted in the movie. But there are also issues with how they aren’t.
Last weekend brought the opening of Detroit, a 143-minute film directed by Kathryn Bigelow (who is white) about a gruesome encounter between some of the members of the Dramatics and the police during the city’s 1967 riots. But to the chagrin of many — including ESPN sportscaster Jemele Hill, who wrote a column for Undefeated — the stories of black women weren’t included. There is talk of a boycott.
And on Sunday night during HBO’s Game of Thrones, for the second week in a row, the #NoConfederate hashtag lit up Twitter in response to HBO’s planned alt-history drama Confederate. Admittedly, I felt some kind of way when I learned of GoT creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ fictional series about life in an America where the South won the Civil War. But shouldn’t we give African American husband-and-wife writing team Malcolm Spellman and Nichelle Tramble Spellman a chance before we condemn them to Jordan Peele’s fictional Sunken Place?
“There needs to be a healthy dose of suspicion about the content that’s created, especially when it’s archetypal,” Peterson said. And, he said, projects like Confederate, Detroit, and Girls Trip could feature black characters who play into stereotypes, whether intended by the creator or not.
“But,” Peterson added, “we have to be careful, because that can be limiting art and it can be limiting to ourselves and our own experiences.”
This is why I almost wasn’t well-versed enough to know whether I was #TeamIssa or #TeamLawrence in relation to HBO’s hit Insecure — another show I initially deemed as ratchet, sight unseen. And why I came so close to blowing off Girls Trip.
Sure, there were some parts of Malcolm Lee’s movie that were gratuitous. The seedy roach motel scene and zip-lining between buildings in New Orleans come to mind.
But Pinkett Smith’s character, Type A Lisa, was darling. Ryan, the you-can-have-it-all perfectionist (Hall), was both strong and sympathetic. Journalist-turned-celebrity-blogger Sasha was well played by jumpsuit-clad Queen Latifah. And Haddish’s Dina? Well, the critics were right about her — she is the ultimate scene-stealer. These nuanced characters coupled with Gen X references — including Diddy’s can’t-stop, won’t-stop performance and New Edition’s cameo — the touching prayer scene between friends, and the universal fight women have to undergo for respect in their personal and professional lives left me weepy.
In the end, I’m glad I let my curiosity over Girls Trip override my uncertainty. But that doesn’t mean I won’t hold on to my suspicion. Because, as Peterson pointed out, the fact that Girls Trip did transcend my expectations in its portrayal of black women is the exception, not the rule.