Something great is happening in Hollywood and it’s resulting in the most diverse range of story-telling America has ever seen. Last April Tracy Oliver was deemed by Indie Wire as a “Woman to Watch” for her writing on Awkward Black Girl [ABG], Survivor’s Remorse, Barbershop: The Next Cut and The Neighbors.
But that was over a year before Girls Trip hit theaters.
Now, the 31-year-old from South Carolina can credit 2017’s most profitable adult comedy as her greatest achievement. Oliver is sitting in the glow of her peers —Lena Waithe, Donald Glover, Aziz Ansari— and working on her next big project. We talked to her about starting ABG with Issa Rae, her new First Wives Club project and, of course, her craziest ‘girls trip’ moment from Essence Fest.
ESSENCE: What was your career trajectory? Have you always been interested in TV and film?
Tracy Oliver: “I’ve been doing theater and music, and singing and dancing and literally everything in the arts since I was a child. I thought I was going to be an actor and then at Stanford I was kind of frustrated with the lack of opportunities I was getting as a performer. That’s when I realized that if I was going to change that I’d need to learn how to write, direct and produce. I started just writing for myself as an actor and then met Issa through a drama class and then we collaborated at Stanford. After we graduated she went to New York and then I moved to L.A. and went to UFE Film School to learn a little bit more about behind the scenes stuff. After we both finished we reunited in L.A. and did Awkward Black Girl together.”
ESSENCE: What happened after ABG ended? How did you get into network television?
Tracy Oliver: “From Awkward Black Girl people started to realize that kind of interesting perspective. At the time there weren’t that many Black female writers or actors in the comedy space. When we started pitching Awkward Black Girl around, people didn’t think there was an audience for it. We went and just made it —proved that there was an audience and because we got millions of views online, a lot of people loved it. Once you kind of prove to the gatekeepers in Hollywood that there is an audience for your content, and your voice matters to people, then they start offering you other opportunities. The first job that I got hired for was for this ABC comedy. Dan Fogelman (This is Us creator) read one of my movie scripts and then watched a couple episodes of Awkward Black Girl and thought I was funny. He then interviewed me and kind of brought me into the TV world.”
ESSENCE: After you met Kenya Barris (black-ish creator) and worked with him on ‘Barbershop’, how did Girls Trip come together?
Tracy Oliver: “While we were working on ‘Barbershop’ Malcolm D. Lee who directed that movie was working with Will Packer on Girls Trip. I basically told him that’s my movie. I was like ‘I don’t know who else you’re interviewing but if you’re doing a party movie with Black women getting drunk and having fun —that is my life and I have to do that movie.’ Literally, that’s what I told him and they’re like, ‘Alright well come up with an idea for it.’ So partnered with Kenya again and our idea won out.”
ESSENCE: The characters come off so authentic.
Tracy Oliver: “I am that southern girl. I understand southern culture. I roll with like a group of Black women constantly. This is definitely my wheelhouse and my world. What I felt like when I watched the movie and the feedback that people were giving was that it felt like real Black women. To me that was the biggest compliment. I watch a lot of stuff that doesn’t feel like we did it, that we wrote it, we were behind it. I see that on screen but I’m like they’re just missing that extra layer of the nuances of what it is to be a Black women. To have a producer like Will Packer that was like, ‘Yes. Get as authentic as you want with this.’ It was kind of a dream come true.”
ESSENCE: In real life, do you have any crazy girls trip-like stories from Essence Fest?
Tracy Oliver: “Me, Hannibal Buress and Lil Rel (Howery) got really drunk at Essence Fest and they decided to crash a random bar and do a drunken routine in the middle of New Orleans at 2AM in the morning. It may have been the most fun I’ve ever had. The bar didn’t know what was happening and [we were acting like it was] open mic night or something. They decided, well, ‘We’re going to do open mic.’ It’s the most incoherent, dumb routine I’ve ever seen but it was a lot of fun.”
ESSENCE: What can you tell us about your remake of The First Wives Club?
Tracy Oliver: “What I can say is that this will feature Black women. That’s was something that I was really excited about. I love ‘The First Wives’ movie, but to me if I was going to do it and have my voice and what I’m passionate about being put into the show, it has to be personal to me, so it’s going to be an all-Black cast.”
ESSENCE: Have you and Issa congratulated each other on your awesome year?
Tracy Oliver: “We’re definitely professionally in our own lanes. You know, whenever we can it’s still all love and support. When I was filming Girls Trip, she was premiering Insecure. So, it was kind of a weird coming together moment for both of us. I got to go to the premiere and I posted about it. It was really exciting to see that happen at the same time as Girls Trip was getting filmed. It was just a great time for the both of us.”
ESSENCE: Would you say there’s a movement happening in Hollywood right now?
Tracy Oliver: “There was this idea a few years ago that there could only be one Black person or one woman or one whatever. Because of that idea, it made the idea of collaborating and the idea of getting contacts out there really competitive and I thought really negative. What we’re seeing right now —which I truly appreciate— is that we can all be happy for each other, and we can all work at the same time. We’re shutting down this notion that my success equals your failure or vice versa. Every time that Donald has a win I reach out to him. Every time that Issa, Lena, every time that we all have great moments, I think it really is all love, and everybody is happy and celebrating.”
Girls Trip makes its home entertainment release on October 17 in stores nationwide and online.