There are critics who possess the awareness, understanding, and appropriate language to critique films by and/or about people of color without wading into offensive stereotypes or gross generalizations. And then there are reviews like Variety Peter Debruge, who, in a misguided rating of upcoming movie Girls trip, became the final poster artist for When a White Critic’s Review of a Black Movie Goes Wrong. In this piece, rich in the flowery, tone-deaf prose of a man who would have voted for Obama a third time had he been given the chance, he projects all sorts of assumptions about black cinema, black women and the black audience.
First, a little background. Girls trip is a steamy comedy starring Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and Tiffany Haddish, beloved actors who, among them, have huge fanbases and hugely successful careers. (Haddish is the debutante of the group, although she recently stole scenes in the last year Keanu and The Carmichael Show.) Malcolm D. Lee, of The best man renowned, realized and Blackish‘s Kenya Barris is among the credited writers. The premise is simple: four best friends reunite and rekindle their friendship during a trip to the Essence music festival in New Orleans, and of course, chaos ensues. Dina (Haddish) is determined to get along with as many hot men as possible, drinks flow, zipline accidents happen. There are dick jokes, piss jokes, this-friend-who-is-far-too-tense-and-needs-to-relax jokes.
This is all very familiar – I’m not saying this as a slight, based on the very funny trailer and the incredible talent involved – and the first points of reference that will come to mind for a movie buff familiar with 2000s blockbuster comedies will likely be something like Bridesmaids Where The hangover. If you are a black person of a certain age, you might even be happy to see Disable it stars Latifah and Pinkett Smith reunited on screen. But it is a critic who once “all lives matter” Moonlight. No, instead the very first thing Debruge can conjure up when trying to describe Girls trip is an author best known for dressing in drag in order to crush his audience with dangerous morality stories about female promiscuity.
In his first line, he writes: “Move on, Tyler Perry. To leave Girls trip director Malcolm D. Lee shows you how it’s done. A little later, in a clumsy evocation of one of Perry’s films, Debruge assumes that the Do one The star is only addressing “those who generally feel more comfortable going to church than to the movies”. (Girls tripwith its sexually explicit humor, apparently appeals more to the masses.) “Taking a page from Perry’s playbook, much of Girls tripit’s the personal drama centers around infidelity, faith (more in oneself than in a higher power), and doing good with one’s sisters. It seems Debruge – who is paid to be a movie pundit – has a hard time associating black moviegoers with anything other than the Perry Oprah-endorsed brand of two-dimensional, religious-tinged storytelling – or he’s just too lazy to try. Perry hasn’t cornered the infidelity and faith market, and just because a large comedy is led by black women doesn’t mean he inspired it in any way, let alone directly. behind her. The portrayal of darkness on screen still has a ways to go, but in 2017, when a film is co-written by the same person currently behind one of television’s most cutting-edge sociopolitical comedies and directed by a person who made a box office success this was not terribly embarrassing, review in an influential Hollywood trade journal like Variety should have sharper ideas to offer that it’s definitely better than a Do one movie.
To wrap it all up, Debruge singles out Dina as a “black-only character” for her “irrepressible, unfiltered quality,” writing she is “just as important to the film’s affirmative portrayal of African-American women as the way the three other characters represent more color-blind ideas of success. Perhaps unwittingly, wrapped up in this hustle and bustle of a quote is a suggestion that color blindness is a thing that exists (beware of anyone, of any ethnicity, who claims to “can’t see race”) and that because that they don’t imitate the indignity of Haddish, Latifah, Pinkett Smith and Hall’s characters could have been played by any old white lady.
When Debruge was called in for his Twitter review, he quickly absolved himself of responsibility and, unsurprisingly, projected his assumptions onto the tweeter. “@variety should do better to hire black writers,” @_miciagirl wrote. “A film created for and featuring black women/people could have been reviewed by only one.” His answer :
Do the reviews to have to be black to write thoughtful and intelligent reviews of black films? No, and @_miciagirl didn’t say they did, she just wrote Variety “could have” done it in this case. (Roger Ebert’s entire career is proof of that.) But Debruge utterly fails to recognize his shortcomings in this case, and surely always will as long as he keeps tweeting nonsense like that. To take a quote from Girls trip via his insane review, “That’s some white boy shit right there.”
Girls trip opens July 21.