Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: February is Black History Month, so we’re looking back on great performances by Black actors that the Academy Awards ignored.
As Jack Black and Will Ferrell once sang, it’s not easy to win an Oscar for a comedic performance. Even getting nominated is tough, and much more likely to happen in the supporting categories—which is exactly where Melissa McCarthy found herself when the Academy recognized her scene-stealing work in Bridesmaids. (She lost to Octavia Spencer in The Help.) Six years later, another future star scored her breakthrough in a raunchy women-led blockbuster comedy. But unfortunately, though she’s just as funny and instrumental to her film as McCarthy, an Oscar nomination didn’t follow.
Tiffany Haddish was fourth-billed in Girls Trip, behind more established talents like Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, and one-time Oscar nominee Queen Latifah. The quartet play college friends (a.k.a. the Flossy Posse) who reunite after five years to attend the Essence Festival. Naturally, each character is dealing with her own issues and will get a moment in the spotlight. But before the four have even landed in New Orleans, it’s clear that Haddish’s outrageous Dina is going to steal the whole show in the best way.
Though Haddish had already made a name for herself on The Carmichael Show, it was Girls Trip that catapulted her to stardom—and for good reason. Of the four friends, Dina is the most immature, passionate, and loyal. While some of the women harbor resentment toward each other or worry about their lot in life, Dina’s love for her girls and her faith in herself never falters. There’s no hint in her performance that Haddish is remotely intimidated by her more famous co-stars. Her character is the funnel cloud of chaos that fuels the whole trip, whether she’s gleefully spraying Bourbon Street partiers with urine from a zip line, demonstrating how to add citrus fruit to oral sex, or (accidentally, sort of) dosing her friends with absinthe right before they hit a club. She’s also the first to clock someone who’s messing with one of her girls.
On top of her acting credits, Haddish also had a history as a stand-up and has expert comic timing. From pretty much the moment Dina appears on screen, you’re leaning in so as not to miss a single syllable of her asides. But it’s the unbridled joy of the performance that keeps Dina from becoming a mere over-the-top caricature. “I know you guys just keep me around for laughs… but I would die for every last one of you,” she says, and Haddish makes you believe it. Even when fighting with the other women, she professes her loyalty: “I love you, but I hate you, bitch!” Girls Trip works so well because we buy the friendship among its leads, and Dina is the glue that binds them all together. At the end of their very long first night in New Orleans, Dina gathers her friends again—not to do another shot but to say their prayers and give thanks for another day of the life she’s obviously living to the fullest.
Many expected Haddish to follow in McCarthy’s footsteps and score an Oscar nomination for her breakout performance. But her name wasn’t on the Best Supporting Actress list the following winter. She was cited, however, by some critics groups—including the New York Film Critics Circle—and immediately beloved by the moviegoing public. Part of the charm was that Dina appeared to be an exaggerated version of Haddish herself (“I imagine Dina as myself times 10,” she told Vanity Fair), and she easily won over the late-night talk-show circuit. Her film career soon took off in earnest, leading to above-the-title roles in movies like Night School (with Kevin Hart) and Like A Boss (with Rose Byrne). A few months after Girls Trip’s release, Haddish became the first Black female stand-up comedian to host Saturday Night Live, and officially ended her major awards drought: She won an Emmy.