Melissa De Sousa Vindicates The Character We Love to Hate in The New Best Man

Photo: Courtesy of Art Streiber/Peacock.
From the moment Melissa De Sousa is introduced as Murch's snarky and domineering girlfriend Shelby in 1999’s The Best Man, to when she reprises her role as a scorned reality-TV drama queen in The Best Man Holiday sequel, lovers of the cult classic hardly ever saw the character we love to hate beyond her cringy antics and ball-busting punchlines. Though Malcolm D. Lee’s beloved movie franchise has long centered Black characters and experiences divorced from trauma porn and other tired Hollywood tropes, it’s only when we arrive at The Final Chapters – eight episodes titled after literature by Black authors – that women are brought to the fore as fuller, more complex characters. And De Sousa’s Shelby took the lead.  
Advertisement
“It was really important for me that we show Shelby’s heart,” De Sousa tells Refinery29 Somos about her role in the final Best Man installment and limited series on Peacock. “That was something that I brought to Malcolm early in the writing phase, my concern with Shelby’s character and her lack of depth. I fought for more because she was the least developed.” Lee committed to expanding the women’s on-screen roles and tapped Insecure’s Dayna Lynne North to help develop, write, and produce The Final Chapters. “I am so glad that we did,” De Sousa adds. 

"I wanted her to be a real person and not a caricature."

Melissa de Sousa
Albeit every woman is given her respective shine – Nia Long as the ambitious Jordan, Sanaa Lathan as a yearning Robin, and Regina Hall as the studious Candy – a deeper, more vulnerable Shelby kicks in the door at just episode two. Right away, the Panamanian-American actor is tasked with peeling back Shelby’s layers, giving audience members permission to connect with her in new ways. “I wanted her to be a real person and not a caricature,” De Sousa says over Zoom. “Who is this woman beyond her attitude? What does it look like to get to know Shelby? To maybe care about her? Why doesn’t she get the guy? Why is she so brash? All this has to affect her, no? It wasn’t about getting the audience to like Shelby more than it was about showing that she is this multifaceted human being whose emotions are valid. I wanted us to explore that and show that I had more to offer than being wise-cracking and bitchy.”
Advertisement
A former principal dancer at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company, De Sousa wanted to employ her other real-life passion to add color to her on-screen persona. “I asked Malcolm, ‘Why don’t we have Shelby crash Quentin’s bachelor’s party with a sexy dance?’” Not only did the “scene-stealing” Shelby disrupt Q’s marriage to Xiomara (Nicole Ari Parker) with a striptease, but after a brief series of twists and turns illustrating Shelby as an imperfect, kind-hearted woman who is deeply in love, the longtime tangled pair are the ones who end up jumping the proverbial broom with a wedding ceremony all their own. 
Photo: Courtesy of Art Streiber/Peacock.
“We fell right back into it when we got together, that’s how comfortable we are with each other,” De Sousa says about playing opposite Terrence Howard. “I especially loved working with Terrence this time around because we got to do more. I think he’s fantastic and it was nice to play with him in a different, and genuinely more intimate way.” 
By advocating for a more complex portrayal of Shelby and bringing her ideas and creativity to the role, De Sousa proves she's ready for her next act: being the woman behind the scenes. Currently, the Black Lightning actor is developing a project she hopes will expand representation for Black Latinas. “The roles for Black women and women of color are so incredibly limited, even to this day,” she says. “It is starting to get better, sure, but we’re just not there. I have to now develop the show I want to see for myself. I am about to start pitching that, and there’s going to be a Black Latina lead. I really love it and I hope that people really love it, too.”
Advertisement

“The roles for Black women and women of color are so incredibly limited, even to this day. It is starting to get better, sure, but we’re just not there."

Melissa de Sousa
Born to Panamanian parents in Queens, New York, De Sousa said it felt like home shooting two weeks of The Final Chapters on set in the Dominican Republic, where she was surrounded by Afro-Latines like her.  “I didn’t get to frolic or explore much, but it was really nice to be in the company of people you hardly see in most television and film.” 
The Best Man: The Final Chapters landed on the Nielsen Streaming Series Top 10, making it Peacock’s biggest series debut.  

More from Movies

R29 Original Series

Advertisement