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Four Girlfriends on the Groundbreaking Black Friendship in 'Girls Trip'

I summoned three close friends to discuss the film's complex and highly entertaining portrayal of black female friendship, the New Orleans music scene, and, of course, Kofi Siriboe's fine ass.

by Britt Julious
Jul 28 2017, 5:16pm

Photo courtesy of NBC Universal

I knew I would love Girls Trip before I even saw it. When the film's trailer dropped earlier this year, I became slightly obsessed. Movies highlighting the black female experience became increasingly rare post-adolescence; we are years past the black cinematic heyday of the 90s and early 2000's, when black-centered narratives shined. And although we've seen an increase in representation of black-women led projects on television (like Scandal or How to Get Away with Murder), they're often dramas filled with emotional and literal torture of their lead characters. Rarely do they focus on positive, life-enhancing central friendships.

But recent years have seen a resurgence of black-led comedies (such as About Last Night) and Girls Trip—which stars four black actresses (Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish)—might be the best and funniest yet.

I gathered a handful of my girlfriends who had seen the film—some I'd known for many years, another who I've only known for a year but immediately bonded with—and were willing to meet and discuss the importance of Girls Trip. During our get-together filled with cocktails and french fries at The Winchester, a relaxed restaurant in the East Village neighborhood of Chicago, we discussed our initial impressions of the film; the beauty of New Orleans; the weird, beautiful, and sexy men of the movie; the importance of sharing and focusing on black women's experiences; and why friendships should be the most important relationships in our lives. Here is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.

Kim, Lisa, and Kelsey. Photo by Britt Julious

Initial Impressions

Kelsey: I thought it was one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. Outside of classic films like Waiting to Exhale, there really hasn't been a movie for me in our lifetime that really displayed black women just doing whatever the hell they want to do. It reminded me of why I loved watching Girlfriends growing up or why I loved watching Living Single and A Different World. That's who I saw myself being. That's what I want to do with my friends and that's what I try to do now.

Lisa: A lot of movies that feature girl groups still have that self-deprecating humor where you make fun of somebody, and it's a bad thing. Girls Trip didn't have that. It was girls calling each other on their shit, but still loving each other.

And then overall, I liked that they were able to combine gross, funny, X-rated humor, but still focused on a plot line about fears women go through like career stuff or "having it all." When you look at typical gross-out comedy, you don't even touch those topics. I love that they were able to weave real life topics that are real for women along with like, pee humor.

Britt: It felt like one of the most accurate reflections I've seen of female friendship in a long time. They were all different, but not so different that you couldn't believe they all met in the dorm rooms and had different interests. Even when I think of a movie like Bridesmaids, it didn't seem like any of those people liked each other. I feel like that happens a lot with comedy films in general that focus on friends coming together. I'm like, are you all friends?

Kelsey: Yeah, there's always this underlying drama.

Britt: And the jokes are meant to be funny for the audience, but they're usually kind of cruel to the actual characters. It always takes me out of the movie because if one of my friends said the kind of things they say to each other in Bridesmaids or Rough Night or The Hangover, I'd hit her. I'd punch her.

Kelsey: When they called each other out, it wasn't about a guy or being selfish. They were saying, "I know you as a person are not like this."

Lisa: I always notice in these movies there's usually a fat girl and fat girl jokes. And I don't have any friends who would say shit like that to me. And if they did, they wouldn't be my friend anymore. And if I was in a group with friends who didn't say anything, I'd second guess that, too. But this didn't have that, which I appreciated.

Photo courtesy of NBC Universal

New Orleans

Kelsey: This was my movie. That's where I went to college. I went to Xavier, an HBCU. Those are my college nights and Bourbon Street was our club. New Orleans was such a magical place for me. Like I really learned a lot about myself. So seeing them come from Fam U (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University) and having that whole background piece, it was really cool to see them in New Orleans as a place to revive their spirits and bring them back to how they connected initially. If you go to a certain HBCU, you're going to other big cities to reconnect. It's one of the unifying storylines in this film that you may not see in others. Having an HBCU experience, you can't replicate that without having gone through it.

And I really like that they had a lot of local talent in the film, like the local bands on the street.

Kim: And the music too. Like in the club…

Kelsey: Yeah! Mannie Fresh was DJing.

Lisa: One of Big Freedia's dancers was in one of the scenes in the dance off.

Kelsey: Yeah, you can't shake like that if you're not from New Orleans. I already know that is a New Orleans shaker. That's very specific to the culture. They put a lot of effort into that.

It was also a great opportunity for Essence Fest. Essence Fest is very huge down south. It's very huge for black women nationally. It's like a right of passage. To show them experiencing that, it was so overwhelming because that's something I want to do with my friends: wear all white, go to Essence Fest, rock out to Maxwell. Those are the things you aspire to when you go to school there.

Kim: I think that is one example of a disconnect for me. There's no analogue for Asian-Americans for me. I didn't catch on to the depth or meaning of it. I think it makes me have a better appreciation of the movie because it was the anchor of the movie.

Kelsey: I have FOMO every year for Essence Fest. I haven't actually attended, but I have friends who interned or worked at Essence Fest as vendors or worked behind the scenes. I always know somebody there and I'm always like, "Damn, missed it again."

Kelsey. Photo by Britt Julious

Britt: If you have any sort of deep connection to Southern Black life, which is very different than being black in New York or some other city, then you know about it intimately. My family is from the South, from Alabama and Mississippi, but we're spread out all over the South so I know and spent a lot of time there growing up. I always regret not going to the fest, but then I'm like, can I do New Orleans in July? The lineups they have are always out-of-this-world.

Lisa: I like that they had such a heavy component of the live music of Essence Fest. It showed how overall, music is so important to New Orleans. I like that it started with that and ended with that.

Kelsey: The soundtrack was so good. Like when New Edition was performing, I was doing the whole routine [dances]. And everybody was jamming.

Lisa: There was this reviewer for a site Justin [Lisa's partner] works for and he was saying there was too much live music in the film, which is totally missing the point.

Kelsey: Who was this?

Britt: Just some middle-aged white guy.

Kelsey: He probably doesn't put seasoning on his food.

Britt: It's got too much garlic.

Lisa: I can't handle all this salt and pepper!

[all laugh]

Kim: What I loved was that it was a specific movie, but I could still enjoy it. I didn't have to get every joke. I got to see women being weird and silly and gross…

Kelsey: And shy, too. People have their certain views about what Jada Pinkett is like in real life, but I thought it was so cool for her to be like, "I miss my kids." Like, she was high on absinthe still thinking about her kids. And that could never be me. I'd be like, "Where is the dick?"

[all laugh]

Lisa: She played that duality well.

Kelsey: It was so cute. And for her to also text Kofi Siriboe and him arrive with his fine ass with the rose in his mouth… like yes, Jada!

The Men

Lisa: Kofi just looked delicious.

Britt: I mean … [whistles]

Kelsey: Two grapefruits.

Britt: He's art.

Lisa: Just so many fine ass men.

Kim: With just so much nudity.

Lisa: Gross or not, any time they put male nudity in a film, I'm like, thank you. Cause women's tits have to be out all the time. But that first scene with the old white man, I was not expecting that.

Kim: I love that they kept joking about it. They weren't scandalized. Like they were obviously surprised, but it wasn't this terrible thing.

Britt: If it was the opposite in a movie with women, there'd be this anger. They were shocked, but also laughing it off. You know they've seen crazy shit like that. It's what makes a friendship.

Kelsey: Oh you definitely see crazy shit like that in New Orleans. It's normal.

Lisa: It's definitely not the first time some creepy old dude has flashed them.

Kelsey: And they will definitely do that on Bourbon Street, honey.

Britt: I thought the male characters were interesting, too. Like they could have made a huge deal about the age difference, but it was more like, you know what? Kofi is fine as hell, he knows what he's doing, and he's smooth.

Kelsey: I wish somebody would discourage me. Like, hell. No.

Britt: The bigger deal was that she [Jada Pinkett Smith's character Lisa] was hesitant to do anything.

Lisa: It was so sex positive. I loved that.

Photo courtesy of NBC Universal

Kim: And it wasn't like, "I'm too old for him." It wasn't her doubting herself. It was more like she hadn't been on this wagon for a while. But then when she was ready to go for it, she was super confident. But in the beginning, I was like, are they really trying to make us think Jada Pinkett Smith is dowdy? Good luck!

Britt: Right? Like, we're gonna put her in this high-collared dress, but she still has cheekbones that can cut glass and skin of the gods. What did you all think of Larenz Tate's character?

Kelsey: Girl! Still bae.

Britt: I was like, where have you been? I was having these Love Jones flashbacks, especially being here in Chicago.

Kelsey: He has not aged at all.

Kim: He was kind of like the too-good-to-be-true guy, though. They always have one of those.

Kelsey: And he pulled up in a Cadillac. Like, first of all? How'd you get that shit on Bourbon Street. That's a lie cause traffic is horrible at midnight.

Lisa: He was a magical mystery man.

Britt: Well he's probably had a crush on Regina Hall's character forever, so she could just transition easily from her ain't-shit husband.

Lisa: He was a believable knight in shining armor. Cause a lot of times in movies, you have that character but you can't trust them. But he seemed like a believable guy.

Kim: And I thought, even if she doesn't end up with him, it would have still been a happy ending.

All: Yeah.

Kim: Because the happy ending wasn't just because she ended up with a nicer dude…

Lisa: She owned her own truth.

Britt: And she got her coins!

Kim and Lisa. Photo by Britt Julious

On Friendship

Kim: Tiffany's character is that real and true friend.

Britt: I think that goes to a larger point in the movie that I enjoyed. In any other movie, it would be about the friends keeping this secret about a cheating husband and trying to figure out what to do. But they kept that from her for like two minutes. And then they just decided, OK, how do we handle this? What do we do?

Kelsey: And that's how I'd handle it too. Like, let's get another hand grenade and talk about it.

Lisa: They thought about keeping it a secret, but they worked through it immediately.

Britt: I'm definitely the Tiffany Haddish character in real life. Like, you can't just tell me all this bad shit about your dude and expect me to not say something or do something. I'm always like, "Can I at minimum push him? Can I just trip him? Can I shove him to the ground and make it look like an accident? Can I spill my hot tea on him?" And my friend'll be like, "You're crazy!" I think when it's one of my friends, I just can't move on like that. I need to know what's the course of action, what are we going to do about this. I need the other person to know that I know that they're wrong.

Kelsey: Now I'm a huge fan of Tiffany.

Kim: Do you think she improvised?

Kelsey: She must have.

Britt: She was just too funny. This is clearly someone gifted at comedy. In general, I think her character was a really integral part of the film. It goes along with how we talked about their friendship being believable. I think that in most friend groups, you have a friend who's going to keep it real, keep it 100. Who you also know is going to be unbelievably loyal to you and everyone else around you. You're going to be so appreciative and grateful for that, even if you don't always express it.

That goes along with the larger theme of the movie regarding friendships vs. relationships. That kind of friendship is so critical for any woman's life, regardless of your race or ethnic background. You need that kind of support structure. What happens when shit hits the fan? Who are you going to go to? It is important to have people beside your significant other. It's healthy.

Lisa: That's something that's changed for me in the last five years. Like I've had friends sprinkled all over, but the difference you have with a group and everyone playing off each other in a female environment—building each other up, bringing each other out of their shells, keeping each other protected—is so important. I never realized how important it is until I finally got it in my own life.

Kim: Tiffany's character was kind of the most sensible character. She was the salt-of-the-earth one. Like, she was extra, but also real.

Photo courtesy of NBC Universal

On Race

Kelsey: It meant so much. I'm still processing, which is why I want to see it again. I had a lot of expectations. You can't go to New Orleans without it changing your life. I still feel like I haven't done everything I want to do in New Orleans and Essence Fest is one of those things. For me in the movie, I got to live out one of my black girl magic fantasies. I want to have the VIP experience at Essence Fest and meet up with Diddy. I maybe thought about it, but didn't realize they were really going to carry the HBCU element in it. It really felt like it could be me and my friends.

They were really committed to showcasing the complexity of black womanhood. We fuck, we laugh, we drink. This is what we do. I think a lot of times in the media, there's a limited view of how we express ourselves. We're sassy or we're ghetto and loud or whatever. But this had women from very different backgrounds, different class experiences, different relationships but they still came together, unified. That's what college was about for me.

It was a party the whole time. The way they set it up—the HBCU stuff, the jackets, the regalia, the Fam U stuff, the stepping—there was something to relate to and make me laugh.

Kim: For what I didn't get or understand, I was fine with it. There was enough universality to make me mad that there aren't more movies like this. I will definitely show up to a movie with all Desi women or all black women and I'll find something in it that's great and funny and enjoyable. I don't need to see myself. I'll see womanhood. And not everything is meant for me. And I also put myself in other people's shoes. What is it like to be a non-white woman going to other buddy comedies and not seeing yourself?

I loved the movie, but it was not meant specifically for me and that's good. There's something good in seeing stories made by the right storytellers. Like I will watch a movie about girlfriends having fun and that is enough for me. It's rare and it's valuable.

Lisa: It had so many universal themes so even if you didn't understand something, there was something there for you. It had touchstones of a specific black movie, but it was also a movie that we can all understand. What makes a good film for me is when I can see myself in it, but also learn something from it.

Britt: We need more stories about women in general, but if we're telling stories about women, they just can't be about white women. That's what Hollywood usually thinks. They'll say they made this "female comedy," but it's got two white women in it. Like, that's fine. It's great that exists, but it's not the solution for all women. Non-white women are frequently put into these roles, these boxes. The movie was both universal and specific. There were no boxes, just truth.