‘The List’ is just one of several projects the ‘Girls Trip’ breakout has lined up.
Building off of her outrageously bold streak in Girls Trip, Tiffany Haddish is about to join the ensemble for Tyler Perry‘s latest comedy film, The List, which could be concerning news depending on who you talk to. Despite having made incredibly successful comedies box office-wise, Perry has been criticized aplenty for indulging in one too many offensive stereotypes — especially his troubling portrayals of women — and the garden-variety filmmaking techniques that make for unsatisfying comedic effect. Haddish, on the other hand, is a rising star, to say the least. Is this really where we want her to go next?
According to Variety, Haddish will star in The List alongside Tika Sumpter (Ride Along) and Omari Hardwick (Kick-Ass). The film centers on Haddish’s protagonist, who is just out of prison and looking to reunite with her sister (Sumpter). Another plot line in the movie involves Sumpter’s character being in an online relationship, but she could be getting catfished. From this brief synopsis alone, it’s easy to picture some of the antics (and moralizing) commonplace in Perry’s films that would ensue.
Even those marginally familiar with Perry’s work will know that his movies strike a chord in an incongruous way amongst a wide array of critics. Just looking at box office numbers, people definitely go to see Perry’s films and he is a bastion in modern-day black cinema. But many also rightly take issue with the themes in Perry’s work and how messily portrayed they are. Perry has said that he writes from experience, for example basing his iconic Madea charcacter on women in his life. But very rarely do his movies come across in any good-natured way because his intentions oftentimes translate to demonization and judgement of anybody, especially women, with a less-than-stellar morality onscreen.
It’s true that the niche of outrageousness and offensiveness present in caricature contributes to cultural conversations, creating inclusion and visibility onscreen. Nothing proves it better than the kind of slapstick genre Perry operates in, for he clearly has no problems casting some awesome people. But everyone is aware of the conflicting nature of his work. When promoting Madea Goes to Jail back in 2009, Viola Davis said:
“People feel the images [in his movies] are very stereotypical, and black people are frustrated because they feel we should be more evolved. But there are very few black images in Hollywood, so black people are going to his movies. That’s the dichotomy.”
And critic Joshua Alston also wrote in 2013:
“…there’s plenty of debate within the black community about Perry’s work, and whether the increased visibility of screen stories about black people and the opportunities he’s created for black actors justify the wrongness of his messages, the broadness of his comedy, and the troublesome nature of his imagery.”
The added layer of visibility in Perry’s movies is important, yet it doesn’t take away from the fact that many similar comedies across the board too often indulge in supposed “political incorrectness” just because they can. These films are obviously not meant to be realistic, and in theory, filmmakers can presumably get away with quite a lot when creating supposed allegories in their stories.
However, that certainly doesn’t justify offensiveness for its own sake, which is found in Perry’s films and indeed many well-received comedies. Films like Superbad and The Hangover series also depict awful tropes and images in the name of getting a few laughs. These films even reinforce unfavorable messages or impressions more insidiously because everyone’s supposed to have an unequivocal good time.
But truly good comedies don’t just glamorize stereotypes and negative portrayals; they have something else to say about them that isn’t a ham-fisted moral. What makes that grapefruit scene in Girls Trip work isn’t the fact that Haddish knows something too raunchy about fruit and isn’t afraid to demonstrate it to the best of her abilities. It’s a scene that plays for laughs in the most outrageous way but firmly remains about the camaraderie between women navigating equally ridiculous assumptions of sexual desire. Can we hope for that kind of nuance in The List? Many would say no, and that’s a huge shame.
Yet in truth, Perry’s conflicting reputation of either being the best or worst doesn’t dampen the fact that Haddish really made a name for herself in Girls Trip and further solidified her presence in the mainstream comedy scene. She’s even doing well for herself outside the genre, recently landing a role in the adaptation of gritty Vertigo Comics series “The Kitchen” alongside fellow funnywoman Melissa McCarthy. Like many other huge stars that have been in a Perry movie (Davis, Angela Bassett, and the list goes on), there’s a high chance that Haddish could get through The List unscathed and that’s all we hope for.