The movie Girls Trip didn’t come to play. It grossed $30 million its opening weekend, more than any other live action comedy last year or previous all-female record-breakers like Bridesmaids. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee and written by Tracy Oliver and Kenya Barris, the movie starred Black acting legends like Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Larenz Tate, and newcomers like Tiffany Haddish and Kofi Siriboe. There are also cameos by our greatest entertainers, such as my man Diddy, New Edition, and Maxwell. They perform at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, where most of the movie takes place, further making it the embodiment of “for us, by us.” I was absolutely not surprised by its enormous success, because I thrive among the audience it caters to and we’ve been longing for movies like this! Seeing Girls Trip was a transformative experience.
My friend and I went during a low summer. I was moping around the house feeling bad about myself and the state of my relationships. My self-esteem hinged on my ability to have that cool internship or high-paying job, and became integral to my identity as the upstanding friend who has her shit together, the girl who’s “going places.” My inability to secure either of those things, along with the rejection of the application process, was taking its toll.
My homegirl and I spent late nights in her car and at movie theaters. Girls Trip became a must-see once the trailer dropped. You had to see it with your mama, your mama’s mama, and/or your best friend. The theater was packed with Black women of all ages, who proceeded to talk back at the screen. It was a communal experience, all of us sharing some connection to these characters. I found bits and pieces of myself and the women I love nestled among the Flossy Posse’s dialogue and body language. It was probably the cheapest and most effective therapy I could’ve received.
I spent so much of the movie laughing, trying to suppress the other feelings bubbling underneath my skin. Inevitably, they began to spill over, and I cried during the ride home. It was the speech delivered by Ryan Pierce, a woman-who-has-it-all-and-then-some relationship guru. I was suddenly evaluating my own relationships, (which, at that point, had been in desperate need of some clarity), what I expected from friends and partners versus what I’d actually been receiving. There I was, looking at the screen, with Regina Hall looking back at me, her gaze saying, “You deserve better, girl!” That moment became an affirmation of a decision I’d long been toiling with. I decided to reclaim my time, cutting those who couldn’t meet me halfway out of my life completely. It was the change I needed and the Flossy Posse crystallized that for me.
Of course, Girls Trip had stellar performances by my favorite actresses, I expected nothing less. I did appreciate that the writing tapped into the best of what each actress had to offer. It was truly balanced between the bunch, every member of the Flossy Posse had their moment to shine within the film, a testament to the love and sisterhood we see in their friendship: There’s no one woman above the crew.
Tracy Oliver is the writer of Girls Trip and I knew after seeing it, we had to discuss what that process was like. You may have been introduced to her as Nina on Awkward Black Girl, where she was also a writer. She’s since written for Survivor’s Remorse and co-wrote Barbershop: The Next Cut, another Black film that showed Hollywood that successful movies that cater to us aren’t an anomaly, they’re the norm! I talked to her about getting her start, the process of writing jokes, and how to operate as Black woman in Hollywood.
TAYLER MONTAGUE: I’d like to know about your upbringing.
TRACY OLIVER: I was born in DC, but raised in South Carolina. From a young age, my mom put me and my sister in all kinds of performing arts stuff. I don’t think she knew that we would go into the arts. I think the idea was just to expose us to a lot of different things and get us out of the house and away from her [laughs]. By the time I graduated from high school, I had applied to NYU and got in and was going to pursue acting professionally. Then my parents kind of freaked out, so I ended up going to Stanford instead, and still made them mad because I ended up majoring in American Studies and Drama. I still didn’t quite give up the arts. And when I was there, I just kept getting cast as some version of Rizzo. Just kind of like, the cool, Black girl side chick. I was frustrated with the fact that I wasn’t getting even considered for certain types of roles. I knew that a lot of it had to do with me being a Black woman. I complained to my Mom about the lack of power. She was like, “Well, you’re in school, so why don’t you learn how to write and direct, and you put yourself in stuff?” I took a playwriting class and started getting better through doing different plays.
When you first started writing, was there anything in particular you were reading and trying to model your work after?
I remember reading a lot of plays by Black playwrights. A Raisin in the Sun. Suzan-Lori Parks. Issa [Rae] and I were in For Colored Girls together. I would study their structure. I’ve always learned better by reading other people’s work and then practicing it, versus taking classes on how to write or reading books on how to write.