What Hollywood Can Learn From 'Girls Trip,' The Summer's 'Surprise' Box Office Juggernaut

It's safe to say that the summer of 2017 is all about the ladies...and ladies taking long-held beliefs about what makes a box office hit and completely blowing them out of the water.

Though Wonder Woman's Gal Gadot (and director Patty Jenkins!) and Atomic Blonde's Charlize Theron gave women some new action heroes to admire, one movie that deserves a closer look is Girls Trip. What could have been overlooked as yet another Hangover-esque story, Girls Trip has defied expectations, becoming one of the biggest standouts of the summer season. Sure, it didn't open at number one, but if blockbusters like Batman v Superman and X-Men: Apocalypse taught us anything, opening weekend means very little in terms of quality. Girls Trip not only pulled in more than its projected debut with $31 million, but the raunchy comedy, anchored by an absolutely hilarious cast of black women, only saw a 36% drop in its second weekend, pulling in another $20 million in its second weekend.

The obsession with the number one box office spot will never go away, but after several weeks of holding strong at the box office (it has earned $88 million against a budget of only $19 million), it is time we address the big question: what can Hollywood learn from Girls Trip? The answer is: a great deal.

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After all, I can speak as one of those many people that read about this movie and thought it was just another attempt to capitalize on a now tired formula, and after hearing several people lump it into the same category as Rough Night, a film I had absolutely no desire to see, my interest was lukewarm. I didn't even see Girls Trip until its second week of release. However, after originally thinking it was something I could wait and catch on HBO, it quickly became clear that Girls Trip is something different. "Word of mouth" movies always seem to be the most intriguing. It may take star power or a superhero slant for movies to go off like a firework and pull in those record-breaking opening weekends, but for a movie to have that slow burn at the box office, to become a fire that just keeps getting fed, it actually has to be...well, good.

Girls Trip is the perfect cap to the summer of women. Pulling together a box office success with an R-rated, female-led, comedy celebrating women and championing the underrepresented African-American women at its core, Girls Trip is a big middle finger to anyone still hanging onto the downright prehistoric idea that it takes a white male movie star to sell tickets.

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Diversity and Authenticity

If you are someone that still doesn't believe that Hollywood has a diversity and representation problem, I want you to take a moment and think long and hard about the last time you saw a movie that starred and revolved around four black women. We have seen more comedies anchored by white women and we have started seeing a growing number of films lead by black men, but black women still tend to be one of the most overlooked and ignored groups when it comes to making movies. Especially when it comes to movies from major studios.

Producer Will Packer said of getting funding for the film, "There were a lot of road blocks and a lot of pitching and convincing, because we were asking people to invest tens of millions into a project that hadn't ever been done before." We can spend a lot of time contemplating what a sad commentary it is that it is 2017 and a black female-led comedy is something that "hadn't ever been done before," but let's focus on the lesson that was hopefully learned here: audiences want diversity.

If this had been another Hangover-style R-rated comedy starring four white women, it arguably wouldn't have been met with nearly as many road blocks as Packer is lamenting. However, what studios need to realize is that a good story is a good story, a good script is a good script, and people just want to enjoy themselves when they see a movie. In a world with so much negativity on the news, people turn to the movies for escape. All people. If the studio's long-held attachment to lighter skin-tones held any water, then the Scarlett Johansson lead R-rated comedy Rough Night should have out-performed Girls Trip with little competition. This is especially true considering that Rough Night boasted a larger opening in several hundred more theaters than Girls Trip. However, the box office told a far different story; Rough Night performed terribly, pulling in only $8 million in its debut weekend. I didn't even realize it had already come out before it left my local theater.

When I watch Bridesmaids with my husband, we both laugh at many of the same parts, but there are still some distinctly female moments, those "Oh my god, that is so true" moments. You know, the "you really have to have experienced this to find it this funny" moments. The same thing goes for male-driven comedy. On more than one occasion, I have asked my husband if that is something that really happens or that men really do, after witnessing jokes or stunts that I am not as privy to based on my gender identity. And to my shame, I never thought about was how many "inside jokes" or moments were missed out on by watching movies with primarily white casts. The more I read about Girls Trip, the more I found out about their absolute dedication to accurately portraying the lives of black women. The reason a film like this is important is because the comedy can appeal to everyone, but the details provide a chance for women of color to recognize themselves in a leading role.

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Comedy for the Sake of Comedy

After the continued financial success of Girls Trip, Forbes writer Scott Mendelson summed up the success in a way that will hopefully shine like a blinding neon sign to the studios: "The lesson of Girls Trip is simple (if potentially simplistic): Adult women like to see movies where other adult women get to have enjoyable and free-spirited comedic adventures and become closer friends/better people as a result. The world is too grim for women (and humanity in general) at this moment to find much value in a movie where women suffer for our laughs." Women don't need a romantic relationship to be interesting, they don't need a man to make something of themselves, and they don't need to be put in uncomfortable situations, like, say, accidental murder at a bachelorette party, to be funny.

The women of Girls Trip never suffer for their fun, and the relationships at the heart of the film are centered around love and female empowerment found in friends, not lovers. Yes, they fight with each other. Yes, there are hijinks that make you go "OMG! Noooo!" But never once were these women ashamed or made to feel guilty for having a good time. This was the kind of no-apologies female-led comedy that all women deserve to experience more often. Between graphic demonstrations of sexual techniques using some very interesting visual aids and deciding to get "white-girl wasted," Girls Trip manages to capture how women act when they are together in all of its detailed, raunchy glory. Long gone are the days of believing women to be the delicate flowers in swing skirts. Joining the ranks of other successful comedies like Bridesmaids and Bad Moms, Girls Trip continues to prove not only that women are funny, but that they can carry a comedy all the way to the bank, no matter their skin tone.

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Comedic timing and good jokes are not gender-specific. A comedy, if done well, should have everyone laughing. However, the bias still tends to be that male-led comedies are viewed as comedies for everyone, whereas female-led comedies tend to be viewed as just for women. In other words, it doesn't seem strange to see women going to The Hangover, but many male audiences see Girls Trip as something akin Sex in the City. You know, something girly. Cooties and such. And judging by the amount of male-led versus female-led comedies out there, it is safe to say that this is a bias held by investors as well.

That brings our attention to another R-rated comedy released this summer: Baywatch. Baywatch had everything that makes a studio jump for joy. It had big name actors, it was male-dominated, it had a built-in fan base, it had pop culture status. Clearly, Baywatch should have put Girls Trip to shame at the box office. And yet, Baywatch sank, making only $18.5 million in its opening weekend, dropping over 50% in its second weekend.

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Acceptance

One of the most refreshing things to me about Girls Trip was actually something that was completely absent: fat jokes. Although a seemingly minute detail in a film so brazenly taking on sexism and diversity, it is something that caught my attention in a very strong way. In a world that is supposedly obsessed with body positivity and feminism, I still find myself having to cringe through jokes about weight. If Hollywood is going to start making more films directed towards women, then they need to take note of the women of Girls Trip, and women in general.

All four of the women had different body types, varying in height, weight, and athletic build. From the petite and athletic Jada Pinkett Smith, to Regina Hall's hourglass, the colorful and curvy Tiffany Haddish, and the towering Queen herself, Queen Latifah, these ladies represent all women. Ever since I saw Chicago, I have had a big girl crush on Queen Latifah – she epitomizes a strong, beautiful, commanding woman. However, about halfway through the movie, I actually got mad at myself. I was mad at myself because I kept expecting at any moment to have to, once again, grit my teeth as this woman that I admire was reduced to a joke about her size. At one point, Jada Pinkett Smith is standing next to Queen Latifah and the height difference between the five-foot Smith and the 5'10" Queen Latifah was obvious, and garnered a couple whispered comments from the ladies behind me. I braced myself for a joke, and that joke never came. As an advocate for the curvy figure, I couldn't be more upset with myself for expecting a joke about size, but then again, that is what I have been programmed to expect.

As someone who isn't a sample size, I always let out a disappointed sigh when the larger female character is so often portrayed as the butch friend, the goofy friend, or the desperate friend. Their attempts at flirting or hitting on people is never handled delicately – it is always the butt of a joke. As a woman, I never understood why this kind of humor was in comedies that are supposed to be for women. Girls Trip managed to be absolutely hilarious without a single fat joke. I felt more accepted by these four characters than I have by any other female buddy comedy I have seen in a long time. There were a couple of the standard personalities that you expect in these films: the over-the-top friend, the family oriented friend, the workaholic. However, what set Girls Trip apart is that those roles were interchangeable. Any of those actresses could have played any of those roles. And that is refreshing.

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The Final Point

With the success of diverse shows like Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder, and Empire, and the universal call from all women for a wider range of roles in major Hollywood films, Girls Trip is a movie that arrives at exactly the right time. It's a "risk" that is still paying off nearly a month after being released. Girls Trip answered the rousing call for entertainment reflecting modern feminism and representation. I left the theater feeling empowered, which is not a feeling one normally associates with an R-rated comedy, but that is the power of a film that manages to respect its characters and its audience, leaving you completely open to just relax and laugh and have a good time at the expense of nothing and no one.