Why The Rihanna-Lupita-Ava-Issa Buddy Comedy Is So Important
It started as an innocent, clever, and creative tweet. A picture of Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o sitting next to one another at a fashion show in 2014 was making its rounds on the Internet. The duo look as if they could be on the catwalk themselves: Both were clad in big sunglasses, and Rihanna sported a furry coat while Nyong’o wore a white-collared burgundy sweater. One imaginative Twitter user, @1800SADGAL, responded to the picture: “Rihanna looks like she scams rich white men and lupita is the computer smart best friend that helps plan the scans.”
Spelling mistakes aside, the reply was retweeted almost 10,000 times, and garnered over 200,000 likes. It even got the attention of both Rihanna and Nyong’o. The actress responded first, tweeting, “I’m down if you are @rihanna.” This prompted the Barbadian singer to comment back, “I’m in Pit’z.” This exchange was of course followed by the entire Internet collectively throwing its hands into the air in celebration. This playful back-and-forth between the two celebrities, this farfetched Twitter dream, started to blossom into something far more tangible when Ava Duvernay—director of Selma, 13th, and the upcoming film A Wrinkle in Time—saw fit to weigh in on the then-fictitious movie pitch. “Lights set. Camera’s up. Ready to call action for these #queens,” tweeted Duvernay, with an accompanying photo of Rihanna placing a crown atop her head, insinuating that she would helm the movie. Finally, to make the project seem one step closer to reality, comedian Issa Rae, creator and star of the HBO show Insecure, tweeted a GIF of a cat furiously typing on a keyboard, indicating that she would get to work on the script. Then in May of 2017, during the Cannes Film Festival, Netflix announced that this film would actually become a reality, with the streaming service itself as the distributor.
It’s always fun to see celebrities revel in fans’ dreams for their careers, but rarely does this fodder result in what will actually be a rare addition to mainstream film: four of the most successful women of color in the entertainment industry actually getting the financial backing to work together. Each woman involved in the project has carved out her own spot in an industry notably dominated by men. Rae has established herself as a stellar comedic writer, receiving plenty of critical praise for her HBO show Insecure. Duvernay also has earned critical praise—her film Selma earned Oscar nominations in 2015—and became the first black woman to direct a film with an extensively lucrative budget when Disney entrusted her with a $100,000,000 budget to direct A Wrinkle in Time. Both Nyong’o and Rihanna’s names are large enough alone to launch their own projects, which is a level of power that’s typically been reserved for bigger-name, male actors and entertainers. It’s clear that all of these women’s roles in the entertainment industry are expansive and fortified enough that they can take space that would typically belong to men, and not only occupy it, but share it with other women.
But the creators of this film alone are not only notable; if the film will indeed follow the plot pitched in the tweet, Hollywood might have its first movie written, directed by, and starring black women who target and undermine white men. Although such a concept might be off-putting to some audiences, a black-girl-buddy-film is something that we just haven’t seen yet. Black female characters on screen are drastically underrepresented as a whole, and when they are present, they are often stereotyped as the “sassy friend.” Explorations of black female friendship, intelligence, and savvy are rarely depicted. Black characters, written by a black woman, and put in the hands of a black director ensures that these characters will be handled with a level of nuance and care that likely wouldn’t otherwise be realized if given to someone who doesn’t easily grasp the experiences of black women. This film shouldn’t be praised only for trying to display underrepresented characters and experiences, therefore, but also because we can rest easy knowing the story will be told well.
Women, and particularly women of color, are not only underrepresented in film, but also often denied the resources and opportunities that are frequently offered to their white and/or male counterparts. This underrepresentation does not occur because of their lack of talent or agency, but simply because of a dearth of opportunity. The combination of these four women of color collaborating to create their own art is not only a testament to their hard-earned status in Hollywood and the entertainment industry, but also paves the way for typically silenced or undervalued women to be able to create their own projects in the future.
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