Tiffany Haddish: The Last Black Unicorn

As a supporter of black television shows and movies, I believe watching some of the latest films starring or created by black people a necessity to maintain my black card. Some of the recent films that hit theaters within the past year included the thriller Get Out produced by Jordan Peele; the play turned movie about father son relationships, Fences starring Viola Davis and Denzel Washington; Hidden Figures, the story of three influential black women in NASA; the story of black men and uncovering their sexuality, Moonlight; and the summer adventure movie Girls Trip starring Tiffany Haddish, Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, and Jada Pinkett.

Despite the recent snub by the Golden Globes 2017, as mentioned by none other than Jada Pinkett herself, Girls Trip has proven what the power of  women supporting films created by and about women, black people supporting films created by and supporting black people, and what can be done with a small budget, a great story and amazing acting. After watching the movie with tears in my eyes from laughter, I am not surprised that the $20 million budget movie became a $138 million success. The movie was a hilarious depiction of what would happen if the Girlfriends series had a baby with the movie Hangover. It’s a story of rebuilding broken friendships, supporting friends through financial and relational problems, and being grateful for the ones who have always had your back, all while having fun and embracing black culture in the city of New Orleans. Although all of the ladies starred in the movie were amazing, Tiffany Haddish, with her larger than life personality, insanely hilarious commentary and reckless acts was the source of much of the laughs in the movie. From grinding on P. Diddy to teaching us what can be done with a grape fruit and a fine man, the 38 year old comedian and actress became the breakout star of the movie.

00-lede-girls-tripthaddish neworleans.gif

Tiffany Haddish was, as a family member once told me, “an instant success that only took ten years”. However, since Girls Trip, her fame has skyrocketed with successes including her HBO Special, becoming the first black female comedian to host SNL and most recently her book, The Last Black Unicorn. Despite her comedic SNL skit as a future predicting black unicorn with Leslie Jones, her book takes her readers through a range of emotions from happiness to fear to anger to redemption and more. Trevor Noah in his interview of Tiffany Haddish on December 7, 2017, emphasized how great this book was and highlighted just how insane Haddish’s life has been. This book does not disappoint.

It is common knowledge from her interviews that Tiffany Haddish was once a child in the California foster care system which further stole the hearts of many with her Cinderella story. However, her book extends far beyond demonizing the system and those involved with it with the usual stereotypes of neglectful evil parents to lost cause children to indifferent social workers to careless foster parents collecting checks. Haddish put a face on a system that we prefer to ignore. Her heart wrenching relationship with her mother shows the diversity in paths to how children end up in foster care. I believe we in the United States mentally file foster care as the unfortunate outcome of a few bad apples that was self inflicted. However, Trends in the Foster Care System recorded by Children’s Bureau statistics tell a different story. As of 2016, there were approximately 687,000 children served, 118,000 waiting for adoption and 57,200 adopted. These numbers don’t even scratch the surface of each child’s story before, during and after their lives in foster care.

Haddish’s relationships with the men in her life are so emotional, so dysfunctional and for many who have experienced abuse on any level from verbal to physical, so familiar. Unlike other domestic violence survivor stories that write those moments in the Tyler Perry style where they graciously found courage after one last traumatic moment to escape that situation (which is a type of story that many need), Haddish’s story was as if it had happened yesterday. In her book, Haddish became the best friend that made all the wrong, impulsive decisions. If you don’t have that friend, either your life is incredibly boring or you might be that friend. Either way, Haddish’s willingness to open her life to readers in a way that feels real and recent is what many victims of abuse may need. Leaving an abusive relationship is not always a clean cut or easy decision for those invested in that relationship, and Haddish’s story is just one example of the difficulties of leaving.

THE NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE LOGO

Her life as a comedian was equally an emotional roller coaster as her personal life. She may have started her comedic career  as a teenager, but by no means was her success or involvement was a steady, consistent climb to the top. Her story as a woman trying to make it in a man’s world (or so we’ve been falsely taught) is one that resonates with all women with goals of making it big in any industry.

Her book was genuine and more like a long conversation with Tiffany Haddish herself rather than an autobiography. The book itself was short and the words were so conversational, I read it in a weekend. I now understand Trevor Noah’s excitement in pitching this book.

giphy (1).gif

Is The Dark Skinned Mean Girl A Step Up

Supporting black films and shows, shows created by or starring black people, is sometimes a double edged sword. On the one hand, I believe it is a necessity to show support for participants of an industry notorious for shunning and misrepresenting black and brown faces. For instance, black and brown actors and actresses are paid significantly less than their white counterparts. But, on the other hand, there seems to be a zero sum win where those of darker skin get the negative part of that equation.

A recent depiction of colorism can be found in the new recent ABC show, The Mayor, the story of local rapper, Courtney, who ran for mayor of his city as a promotion for his music but unexpectedly wins the election and becomes mayor. The moment I saw the trailer, I was disinterested. Although I love the female supporting actress, Lea Michelle, the feeling I felt watching the show’s trailer felt similar to the elephant in the room when the trailer for The Mountain Between Us starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet played in the theater full of women of color. I was just tired of uplifting and supporting black shows and movies that do not uplift or support those that look like me. Nevertheless, I watched the show for the comedic dialogues between the characters played by Brandon Michael Hall, Lea Michelle, Bernard David Jones, Marcel Spears and Yvette Nicole Brown. In episode 6, Will You Accept This Rose?, like so many shows and movies before, the formula of caring, nice, light skin girl, recently introduced as the Transit Union lawyer in Episode 5, played by Kali Hawk, versus selfish dark skinned girl that threatens the reputation and respect of black men, played by Meagan Tandy as reporter Danielle, was evident. However, I was relieved that despite once again being portrayed negatively, reporter Danielle was seen as not only ambitious but equally desired by the main character Casey and his friends.

Colorism in black media has been discussed time

img_2406

(Coming To America, 1988)

and time

img_2407

(Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman, 2005)

and time

img_2405

(Martin, 1992-1997)

and time again

img_2408

(The Proud Family, 2001-2005)

These are just the movies and shows I know from memory and the ones where the comparison between dark skin and light skin are blatant. Systematically, the script has remained unchanged for roles of black people, particularly black women, which fall into three categories: Mammy, the dark skinned, heavy-set asexual figure who typically works herself to death while holding the family together best she can

img_2445

(Gone With The Wind, 1939)

Sapphire, the dark skinned, more muscular, angry woman whose sole purpose is to belittle the black man

img_2447

(Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family, 2011)

And, Jezebel, the light-skinned hypersexualized figure typically viewed as the most attractive of the three

Image result for nicki minaj paper magazine

(Nicki Minaj, Paper Magazine, 2017)

This mindset has permeated the mind of the black community since slavery days so there is no surprise that the dichotomy between the civilized white skin versus savage dark skin has transferred to classy, gentle light skin or mix race versus ghetto, ratchet dark skin. That is with the assumption that media, whether black or white, even acknowledges dark skin women versus placing the racially ambiguous girl as the representative of all things women of color in a show or film.

Despite the lack of or poor representation of dark skinned black women in media, we have a greatly progressed with shows and movies including: Queen Sugar, Insecure, Scandal, Being Mary Jane, Girlfriends, How to Get Away with Murder, and Girls Trip just to name a few recent shows and movies. Actresses like Tracy Ellis Ross , Yvonne Orji, Lupita Nyong’o, Viola Davis, and to Taraji P. Henson show the diversity in occupation, personality and beauty in black women.

However, there is one role that has me perplexed about the progression of media representation of dark skinned women, the role of the high school mean girl, the bitch.

The term bitch has a similarly complicated history like the term nigga that I will not delve into, and it comes in various connotations. So, I will elaborate. I do not mean the baby mama drama bitch or the ratchet bad bitch or the video hoe bitch. I’m talking about the high school mean girl that we could not stand but we all remember. I am talking about one of my favorite bitches, Regina George from the Lindsay Lohan movie Mean Girls. Regina George was a bitch because her manipulative and controlling nature was encouraged and fueled by the adoration and obsession of others.  She was what many would call the epitome of beauty which is what allowed for her arrogance and confidence. She was the girl everyone hated because she was the one everyone wanted to have or wanted to be. Seriously, who did not want to be Regina George?

Image result for regina george gif

Look at any Disney Channel show or teen movie and this role will be there, typically played by the white blondes, maybe an occasional brunette.

Even while digging into my deepest memories the closest to that role that I remember seeing black girls play is the rule of the mean girl’s best friend, the henchman.

Image result for gretchen wieners gif

HBO’s Insecure lead actress and producer, Issa Rae, also tackled the conversation of representation of black people in media, specifically black teens, in a proposal for a black teen drama stating:

“I would like to pitch you a new show about black teenagers. Think 90210 or Gossip Girl for black kids. . .Maybe we call it Ladera Heights 90041. It could be Potomac Maryland 20854. . . . I would definitely have a ho character, always on her ho s**t. Just thirsty. . .No goodie-goodies over here, not in this show. Nobody was watching 90210 for Tori Spelling.” Vibes Magazine, 2017

Would placing a dark skinned actress as the role of the mean, popular girl, the bitch, be a step forward in the representation dark skinned women in media or merely perpetuating the light versus dark skin stereotypes? Regardless, to have a dark skinned actress be placed in roles that command such respect, interest and admiration would say a lot to the young black girls who wished there were more shows that represented young girls with their melanin and curls.

Wonder Woman and Everything Everything Say Sorry Mom

I have seen both the movies Everything Everything and Wonder Woman back to back and I have never seen two movies so different and so similar back back. Everything Everything is the story of an 18 year old girl who is believed to have a serous sickness which prevents her from ever leaving her home. After meeting and falling in love with the boy next door, her small, safe world is forever changed (more spoilers as this article continues). It is a teen romance movie where the characters wear trendy clothes easily found in H&M and the soundtrack can be found in any Top 40 playlist with various up and coming pop and eclectic artists. Wonder Woman is based off of DC Comic’s female superhero, Diana, an Amazonian princess who meets a man that leads her on her own adventure (see the similarities yet?). Compared to Everything Everything, the movie Wonder Woman was an action packed movie where most of the music was mixed with roaring sound effects of explosions, bombs and gun shots. In addition, I don’t think Diana’s outfit can easily be found in your nearest mall. There are a lot of spoilers in this piece but the messages are spot on.

ww3everything-everything

Despite these movies seeming to target different audiences with different tastes, the messages and story lines almost mirror each other. Early in both movies, a handsome man comes infiltrates these women’s “safe spaces” forcing these women to accept the truth about themselves. In Everything Everything, the star’s safe space is her home. This home was a beautiful California home. The rooms were impeccably clean. The furniture and appliances were modern and state of the art. The home was specifically designed to let nothing of any risk even so much as touch the well off and sheltered girl. In one of the first scenes, the neighbor tries to give the mother a bunt cake which she rudely refuses. The daughter shouts from her room, “I’d rather try a bunt cake.” The mother replies, “It’s dry.” From my own experiences, I’ve had plenty of bunt cake conversations with my own mother, as I will assume other mothers and daughters have had. Many times, my mother looks at me like I am the most fragile thing to ever exist and make the decision to shelter me from dangers with the power of ignorance. Wonder Woman was no different. The first scenes of the movie start with Wonder Woman as a little, the only little girl in her world, her sheltered safe paradise. Like Everything Everything, Diana’s world was safe, there hasn’t been war or outside threats to this world hidden behind magic and fog for years. Like Everything Everything, Diana was seen as the most delicate and fragile thing to exist. For that, her mother, the queen, hides Diana’s true identity. As a woman, I find ignorance used as a weapon more often as I get older. There is a global fear and misunderstanding of women with knowledge not only about the world through books and education but about themselves. In both movies, the mothers keep a massive secret from their daughters that have kept them sheltered or better yet captive in these safe spaces.

I won’t delve too much into the hunky male superhero that, through fate, comes into these women’s lives. As a single woman all I can wonder is “Where the hell is mine?” But I will skip to the end. I forewarn, there are serious spoiler alerts so I would suggest saving this article once you have seen both movies or have no intention of seeing either movie. Both characters discover the strength within them once they have left their homes. It was not until the main character in Everything Everything, Madeline, returned from her life threatening adventure in Hawaii that she discovers she was never sick (I warned you reader). It was not until Diana realized that the evil she thought she was meant to defeat was actually the complex concept of human free will and inborn evil rather than some singular evil bad guy  that she discovered she was a goddess herself. Not only is she a fictional goddess but in many ways she is a feminine depiction of a God many people are familiar with. The theme of the movie is that humans, in their tendencies towards evil, don’t deserve her power and mercy yet she gives it anyway (sound familiar Christians?). Steve, played by the beautiful Chris Pine, also thanks her for saving him by bringing him out of the water (sound familiar ladies). Diana’s strength is incomparable yet her mother hid it from her all her life.

everything-everything-second-trailer-shows-more-of-the-romance-videowonder-woman-trailer9

I have lived in a safe space my whole life. For years, I was a sheltered child whose media intake consisted primarily of Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. I had many toys and never worried about physical harm or hunger. I had a lovely safe space. Many women and girls like me have or had those spaces. Maybe they were not paradises, but they were the safe because they were familiar. Women are often pressured to stay within the family, not always for their own good but for the benefits of their family members. Even with good intentions, sexism often pressures women more than men to take less risks, desire less adventure, and require less self awareness of one’s own strength in order for these women to feel more obligated to watch over the family. However, no one, man or woman, can stay within their familiar zones and expect to really discover who they are and their true potential. Sometimes it takes the push of someone who is different to take us out of those comfort zones.

My final point refers to the title, the strain of growth on a mother daughter relationship. In both movies, neither women return home to their mothers who nurtured and cared for them all their lives. Back home, they did not exist. Madeline mentions in Everything Everything that only a small handful of people knew she even exists. She was her mother’s. In a similar fashion, no human knew Diana’s world existed. In her world she was simply the princess. In Everything Everything, Madeline says “You’re not alive if no one knows you exist.” In different words but with the same message Diana says to her mother before she leaves home, “Who would I be if I stayed?” As a millennial, I’ve learned a lot of the things my older relatives have taught me were wrong. That is the hardest thing to realize because you know there is usually little to no malice in what they teach you. However, you know what they say is not always what’s best for you. In similar tone with love and persistence both characters in summary say, “Sorry mom, but I have to be myself.” As Gen Y people we have to get out and discover the truth about the world around us and Gen Xers need to trust us with the truth.

ee-04

wonderwoman4

These story lines aren’t new. Disney has used these stories in movies like the animated Rapunzel or Brave. However there is something about these two movies that make the similar message different. Maybe it’s the use of actual people. Madeline, played by the girl who played Rue in Hunger Games, can be any black girl, you meet. As a black woman mentioning her race is relevant because it is nice to see people that look like me on the big screen. However, Madeline can be any girl who knew they were in a safe space but knew they didn’t belong there. Wonder Woman was edgier than the Disney princesses. At times she was stone faced and cut and dry with her responses. She did not flirt or sing around those who doubted her to make a point. She looked her doubters in the eye and said, “Watch me”.  There was something more real about these ladies discovering their physical strengths, history and sexuality.  Regardless, both movies make me proud to be a part of a generation where slowly women, people of color, people of foreign descent are in control and making a difference in the world.

giphy