'Girls Trip' scribe Tracy Oliver talks writing for Black women and being committed to the grind
Tracy Oliver knew that she had something special when she and Black-ish creator Kenya Barris finished the script for Girls Trip. “I'm not shocked,” she explained to me referring to the massive success of the film. “I knew what we were making. I was on set. Everyone just put together the film, including the cast — every part of it was so magical. I was like, 'This is going to do well.' What I didn't know was that it was going to break records. I didn't know that it was going to make over $100 million domestic. That's really, really rare, and really hard to do. There are movies with all white casts that are not hitting $100 million.” The South Carolina native has spent her career writing for and about Black women — and she’s not about to apologize for it. Like many of us –in the ‘90s Oliver was enraptured by all of the multifaceted stories of Black women that were available to us on television and in film, from Living Single to Love & Basketball. However, by the time the 31-year old hit her twenties – Black people had all but disappeared from the big and small screens. “I was really spoiled. Like a lot of people that grew up in the '90s, we had so much on television,“ Oliver said wistfully. “Then on the movie side, I loved Love & Basketball, Love Jones, The Best Man — those were my favorite things when I was growing up.”
In a moment it seemed like a switch had been flipped – all of these gorgeously textured stories simply vanished. “I can't tell you why people started believing that there wasn't an audience for Black content,” the Survivor's Remorse scribe reflected. “I don't know what the breaking point was, where Hollywood decided no more movies other than Tyler Perry. For almost a decade, there was nothing but Madea. I think that was really a bleak period for a lot of artists of color because it was like, that's fine an audience, but there's so much more to Black people and Black lives that we're not showcasing and not sharing with the world. I'm not really sure why that happened.”
During that time—Oliver was headed to Stanford University. An artist to her core, the actress, writer, and producer was quickly typecast. “I was basically getting cast as some version of Rizzo in Grease in everything, “ she said laughing. “I was always the cigarette-smoking, cool Black girl and I was like, 'All right, we're done.'" It was her mother who prompted the Stanford alum to stop complaining about her lack of opportunities and actually do something about it. “My mom is just not one of those people that is here for any complaining,” Oliver quipped. “She was like, ‘Well, aren't you at school? Can't you just learn how to write? If you don't like something, then you figure out how to change it. As long as you're auditioning for other people, that's what they're going to do. They don't have any obligation to cast you as anything other than how they see you.’”
The 31-year old took that advice to heart and she and her classmate Issa Rae teamed up to write and produce the acclaimed web series, The Mis-Adventures of an Awkward Black Girl. Oliver starred as Issa’s mean girl co-worker J on the show. It was writing that really sparked something in Oliver. “I really enjoyed the power and the creative freedom of directing and writing, more so than just performing because there's so much control that I have on this side of things that I didn't have when I was just a performer," she reflected.
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