I‘ve never in my entire Black-ass life seen a feature film that spoke to me in the way that Girls Trip does. That might sound a bit dramatic in regards to a comedy, but when I say that that it exceeded every expectation that I could have had for a film, I’m not being hyperbolic in the least.
The first week box office numbers are in, smashing any sort of expectations for R-rated comedies with and without non-white leads, which may come as a surprise to Hollywood stakeholders that routinely fail to “bet on Black” and have been slow to realize that director Malcolm D. Lee is damn good at putting bodies in theater seats. (Cultural critic Jeff Yang broke this down in two very spot on Twitter threads that you can check out here and here.)
While I’m not at all shocked by the sheer number of people who went to see Girls Trip thus far, I’ll admit that there were a lot of things happening in the movie that I just wasn’t prepared for. I don’t want to thinkpiece away the fun, but I will be singing a few praise songs about it for weeks to come. The doors of the church are open, please grab a Hurricane and a seat.
NOTE: there are a few spoilers ahead.
The “Flossy Posse” clique was founded at Florida A&M University (it is also the alma mater of Will Packer, one of the film’s producers who, like Lee, has the golden touch at the box office.) An opening montage illustrates the crew’s younger days will look familiar to anyone who had the privilege of attending an HBCU, and while films like Packer’s own Stomp the Yard and Drumline have explored parts of the Black college experience, I can’t say I’ve ever seen one that really explored how the bonds we formed on those campuses look years later.
(A quick aside: No, I don’t think that friendship or Black girl sisterhood is exclusive to women who went to schools like the one I attended, but it’s worth acknowledging that there is a special something to what we cultivate in those spaces—namely the commitment to loving each other fiercely long after we’ve ditched the dusty, dank dorms and the ways that our identities are tied to these institutions. I’ve been writing for digital audiences long enough that I can literally argue every point of contention that folks will take with anything I say before I’ve even finished saying it. A gift? A curse? Eh, somewhere in between, and certainly a conversation for another day.)
You don’t have to be a media professional to connect to the masterful ways that Regina Hall’s Ryan code switches between the largely-white behind-the-scenes world of her media career, the polished and poised on-stage persona she’s honed and the sister-friend who wears her gold “FP” chain with pride. Here, the popular, successful queen bee of the crew is also lovable, relatable and familiar—this is the Regina Hall that we’ve known and adored for nearly two decades, shining in the sort of marquee role that lesser actresses of a paler hue get with not even a third of her resume under their belts.
While her homegirl climbs to the top of the media world in her red bottoms, Sasha (Queen Latifah) has hit a rough patch in her career as a gossip blogger; her past work as a ‘real’ journalist will, of course, remind audiences of her iconic role as Khadijah James, Editor-in-Chief of Flavor magazine, one of at least three subtle nods to some of the stars’ past roles—which only the film’s core audience would truly appreciate. While Girls Trip and Living Single are very different projects that were created for different mediums in a wildly different time in history, both have more in common than a shared lead actress.
In the hands of the wrong writers, and lesser actress, a character like Tiffany Haddish’s Dina (like one Maxine Shaw before her) would be weighed down by what some of my elders would call “cooning and buffooning.” The Flossy Posse’s wild child is loud and inappropriate, sassy and raunchy AF. She’s also one of the most hilarious and captivating sprits I’ve ever seen on the big screen, dismissing all the norms and limitations typically placed on Black women in film. That Haddish is drop dead gorgeous doesn’t hurt; in fact, it’s but one of the ways Dina disrupts the idea of the trill friend as little more than a comedic device that doesn’t have a fully realized life outside of entertaining her friends or driving them to drink. I could not be more excited for her career.
A lesser writing team would have as easily dropped the ball with Jada Pinkett Smith’s Lisa, who has descended to the all-too-familiar single mother who has shed much of her identity like dead skin in order to provide for her family after a divorce. Her weekend fling with a handsome young fraternity man/promo model (Kofi Siriboe, who made my heart actually stop when he made his first appearance in the film) makes an important deviation from Hollywood tropes by being exactly that: a weekend fling. Lisa has a mostly good time with the tenderoni and keeps it moving without catching feelings, walking away with a few great cell phone pics and perhaps a renewed sense of her sexuality—a pretty damn good outcome, to say the least.
Alas, unlike more successful Black-led comedies than you may realize, Girls Trip was written by actual Black people who are actually dope-ass writers: Black-ish’s Kenya Barris and Tracy Y. Oliver (Survivor’s Remorse), both of whom penned last year’s Barbershop 3: The Last Cut, arguably the strongest installment in the franchise and directed, of course, by Lee. (Oliver penned a piece for Cosmopolitan not long before it’s debut, explaining why she is proudly writing Black characters in an industry that likes to play “race blind” when convenient. You should read it after I finish this Girls Trip praise and worship hour.)
This, dear reader, is why these characters sound so familiar, so honest and so relatable—even as they navigate circumstances involving multi-million dollar development deals, sex scandals and a few wildly gross moments that are so f*cking funny that your pearl-clutchingest line-sister or cousin won’t be able to contain her laughter.
Essence Music Festival—better known as “The Essence” or just “Essence”—is a spectacularly Black experience that has existed for 22 years without being widely known outside of our community and music media spaces and Girls Trip manages to perfectly capture its spirit without inadvertently pitching it to audiences that would compromise the Negritude that makes it so special. Or, in other words, the film makes Essence look lit, but not so lit that women who look more like the cast of Girls than the cast of Girls Trip will feel the need to charter the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria for 2018’s festivities.
There’s another very special thing that happens in Girls Trip that actually brought a tear to my eye. For context, you’ve probably seen this clip of Haddish on Jimmy Kimmel Live last week, during which she tells a hilarious story about a trip to a swamp tour she took while filming in New Orleans. Most coverage of the interview seemed to focus on rich homies Jada and Will not knowing what Groupon is and the actress’ phenomenal storytelling abilities. However, hearing Haddish state—not admit, but simply state— “I smoked a bunch of weed” on national TV landed her a place in my heart immediately. The fact that her character isn’t the only member of the Flossy Posse to light up on screen has me ready to stand on the corner and proselytize for the film with pamphlets and statistics, I kid you not. When have “good” Black girls ever been so f*cking free? This isn’t just #Blackgirlmagic, this is the new Negress order. Sign me up and pass it to the left. Okay, maybe that’s a bit much, but it’s a significant moment for sure.
When have “good” Black girls ever been so f*cking free?
Honestly, after the success of this film and the relative failure of Rough Night, I’m pretty sure there’s a white woman writer penning a treatise calling for the end of raunchy female-led buddy comedies as we speak—you know, one of those gals who railed against maternity shoots and happiness after Beyoncé’s latest pregnancy. And while I refuse to see the absolute hell that is my Twitter mentions as a reflection of the world-at-large, I’d wager that the handful of dudes bothering me about the movie aren’t the only ones made uncomfortable by the sight of sisters happily indulging in sex, drugs and R&B. This is icing on the cake.
If happy, well-rounded Black women are triggering to you, Girls Trip is going to set you down a dark path and I truly hope you get there quickly. For the rest of you, please do yourself a favor: make plans to see it, and bring your girls. Or your man. Or both. Or make plans to see it twice and give both parties the time they deserve. Or go see it alone. Just go see it, seriously.