How Girls Trip Avoided This Black Hollywood Cliché

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Girls Trip finally hits theaters today. If you haven’t already made plans to see it with your friends, you need to. I’m going to see it again because I laughed so hard during the my first screening that I’m sure I missed some parts. Our very own Arianna Davis has already declared that it’s the most important film of the the summer, and I agree. It’s a beautiful tribute to Black womanhood, friendship, and joy in a hilarious package. The movie’s creators were able to pull this off without falling into any of the clichéd trappings of portraying Black women in film.
The premise of Girls Trip is that that four college best friends reunite for the first time in four years. They travel to New Orleans for Essence Festival, and a bunch of drunken debauchery ensues (it's like The Hangover, except with Black women). All but one of the women show up to the trip single, and all four of them leave New Orleans single as well. If you’re freaking out that I may have just dropped a spoiler, rest assured that I haven’t. Girls Trip is not a romantic comedy. It’s just a story about four friends. Finding love is not their ultimate goal, and that’s perhaps the most refreshing thing about the film.
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That Black women need to establish heterosexual relationships in order to reach their full potential is a fairly far-reaching problematic theory. In 1965, white sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, also known as the Moynihan report. It identified Black single moms as the root of Black poverty. Decades later, sensationalized reports about Black women being less likely to marry (and why that may be) flare up. At best, these pieces make a spectacle of Black women who exist outside of the institution of heterosexual marriage. At worst, they’re condemnations with the bottom line that the problem with Black women is that they are single.
For many Black women, “that’s why you’re still single” is an insult of the highest order, as if it symbolizes personal failure and devaluation. Self-proclaimed "relationship gurus" like Steve Harvey have built empires preying on this fear and reinforcing sexist gender norms. That Harvey’s highly-acclaimed book Act Like A Lady, Think Like a Man was turned into not one, but two films says quite a bit about how Hollywood has run with the idea that love is all Black women need to get their shit together. Tyler Perry has also touted this message over and over again in his plays and movies. Madea, the Black female caricature that Perry himself plays, is loud, boisterous, and uninhibited. That she has never had a serious love interest in the decade that Perry has played her is just another way that she refuses to assimilate. Madea is the actualization of the chaos and demoralization that is single Black women.
Girls Trip presents a happy ending for Black women that does not include each one being monogamously partnered with someone, which is a bold move. What’s even more daring is that the four women very much enjoy being single and the liberties that come with it. While the rest of the world is pouring over receipts about how and why Black women aren’t getting rings put on it, they’re finding happiness in casual sex, friendship, and vacations. That’s worth a few well-reported pieces and a movie or two as well.