Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish have been making the rounds to promote their new movie Night School. You’ve most likely seen the trailers all over the internet, and if you live in a city like New York, you’ve been inundated with posters and billboards. You probably already know that it’s about a high school dropout named Teddy (Hart), who can’t get the GED he desperately needs unless he attends a night school course taught by the very unorthodox Carrie (Haddish). You know to expect some gut-busting laughs from the reigning king and queen of comedy. Here’s something that you are probably not expecting from all of the promotion and teasers, though: Carrie is a lesbian. Don’t worry, this news isn’t a spoiler. Carrie’s sexual identity is treated as an afterthought, and it’s the most disappointing part of an otherwise great comedy.
Carrie is crass and unfiltered. She can “cuss like a sailor,” as my Granny would say, and as an overworked, underpaid educator she does not hesitate to unleash her sharp tongue on her high school students or her boss. As such, she certainly doesn’t reserve any pleasantries for her mismatched group of night school students. She’s tough, but passionate about education. But outside of her feelings about being a teacher, we don’t get to know much about Carrie in Night School. She is not above taking herself on an occasional shopping spree at Rainbow, and she is inexplicably good at professional fighting. But those are the only details we get about the film’s co-lead. It’s at the the end of the movie, in a moment that you could easily miss if you decide to check your text messages at the wrong moment, that we learn that she’s a lesbian.
Even in its brevity, the scene is a great critique of male entitlement and aloofness as it presents itself in Teddy. Actual spoilers ahead: After wrapping up their final night school session, the dropouts decide to crash the high school prom happening in the gymnasium. They dance with each other, and during a slow jam, Carrie congratulates Teddy on all of his hard work. He ridiculously thinks that this is her way of hitting on him and tries to let her down gently. Deafened by his own self-absorption, he doesn’t even hear Carrie when she says “I’m gay.” She repeats herself a few times, at which point Teddy finally realizes his error. Then his fiancée walks in, and we’re back in his world for the remainder of the film. There isn’t a single mention of Carrie’s identity.
Night School audiences will get to see so many parts of Teddy. The movie opens with flashback scenes from his high school years. We know his friends — a white guy named Marvin (Ben Schwartz) who is going to hook him up with a job — and his enemies — his fiancée’s friend Maya (Yvonne Orji) can’t stand him. He overspends to keep up appearances for his fiancée Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke), and he has a complicated relationship with his father, while his mother still coddles him. Carrie exists solely in service of the people around her, which is a position that women of color too often find themselves in onscreen.
In her case it’s an even bigger slight because in downplaying Carrie’s experiences, Night School missed a huge opportunity to offer up normalized representations of LGBTQ+ people of color, especially women. Way too often, queer Black women are either completely erased from heteronormative cultural representations of Blackness or defined exclusively by the oppression they face. Or in the case of Night School, their sexuality is a hidden element that is only necessary to character development when it’s time to rebuke the advances of clueless men or explain their own singleness. However, queer people of color are dynamic and complex just like everyone.
Night School is set up to be the biggest comedy of the fall. Hundreds of thousands of people are going to flock to theaters to see it, many of them people of color. And they should, because the movie is really funny. But instead of connecting with a strong and funny Black lesbian character, they are going to laugh at a strong Black woman whose sexuality is kept on mute while her male counterpart gets to live his best life. I wish Hart or one of the other five male writers had the foresight to understand how disappointing that is.