Black Panther basically won the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards. A queer young Black man, who plays both a rom-com movie dreamboat and a TV superhero, won Best Kiss. Beyoncé proteges Chloe X Halle performed “The Kids Are Alright,” promising to “bless you with some culture.” Lena Waithe took home the Trailblazer Award. Zazie Beetz simply told everyone how to say her name properly. And, superstar Tiffany Haddish hosted the whole damn thing, because she ready. These were the Blackest Golden Popcorn Awardsfests in history.
We should have known the proceedings were going to be as beautifully Black as possible when we found out that Haddish, a woman who hasn’t left her South Central neighbourhood behind for the gated communities in the Hills after stardom called, would be emceeing the event. Her opening bit was a hilarious and fitting overture for an evening of Black excellence. The show kicked off with a spoof of Black Panther, complete with the comedienne coming for the Wakandan crown — or just a whiff of T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) inner leg.
It's difficult to pick the most unapologetically Black joke from the pre-taped cold open. Haddish performs the very appropriate TLC’s classic “Waterfalls” with two other women of colour in the Black Panther challenge waterfall. There is a Lil Wayne joke about lean. Haddish pokes fun at Boseman's current ubiquity in Black biopics, screeching, “Oh my God, I just shanked Chadwick Boseman, AKA James Brown, AKA Jackie Robinson.” It’s a quick and funny indictment of how little creativity Hollywood has about America’s Black icons — and Haddish didn’t even have to mention Boseman’s time as Thurgood Marshall.
Unfortunately, no. But, we do get an entire homage to the breakout queen of the Love & Hip Hop franchise, which turns out to be even better: Cardi B. As the entire Black Panther cast in attendance applauds the end of the movie spoof and Kristen Bell mouths “That was amazing!” to someone, Haddish, as “Tiffany B.” bursts onto the scene, carried by two ripped men in unicorn costumes. Cardi’s defining hit “Bodak Yellow” is blaring. But the song has been updated to praise the greatness that is Tiffany Haddish – who, it turns out, can spit rhymes rather well.
“If you see me and I don’t speak, that means you might bite me too,” Haddish raps in a dress identical to the one Cardi wore on Saturday Night Live to announce her pregnancy. Yes, it took less than seven minutes for a perfect Beyoncé BiteGate joke.
It should be no surprise Haddish’s monologue began by recognising all the major strides Black people have made in culture since professional frat boy jokester Adam Devine hosted the awards show last year. Haddish is the first Black woman to ever emcee the show. Black Panther is the first African American-led movie to make $1 billion. And, she jokes, A Quiet Place is the first movie to scare Black people so much, they won’t even talk in the cinemas. What would be a groaner for most comedians turns into a well-crafted piece of comedy in her hands.
Haddish is uncommonly effective because she values a good, original joke above all. Just look at her take on the aforementioned Quiet Place – as seen in pre-taped segment in which a Black woman watches the horror film for the first time. Yes, she screams a bunch of funny things at the screen while munching on popcorn, but, that tired trope isn’t where the story ends. Rather, it continues to the point where Haddish sees an opportunity and releases her own ridiculous twist on the John Krasinski-directed blockbuster (R.I.P, Jamie Foxx). Remember, she ready. Always.
While A Dark-Ass Place was good, Haddish’s faux appearance in the Star Wars universe is great. Like, talk about it in 20 years great. The premise is that Haddish stumbles into the famed The Last Jedi scene, where Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) have a heart-to-heart through the force. Only this time, the heart-to-heart is between shirtless “big old freak” Kylo, his infamous high waisted pants (Haddish’s greatest weakness, natch), and Haddish herself.
“Look at that delicious, blindingly white skin. I can see your lungs,” she gasps. The sexy conversation eventually escalates into Haddish getting shot by a ray gun in the “tigole bitty” and fighting with Kylo over her totally-not-a-vibrator back massager. One hasn’t lived until they’ve seen Tiffany Haddish scream, “It’s for my back! It’s not for my front!” as a scarred-up Adam Driver tries to force-pull an object that definitely isn’t a sex toy away from her. The impeccable few minutes of comedy have nothing to do with Haddish as Black woman; it’s simply about her being a funny, delightfully raunchy performer. Because like the many white, male comics who have come before Haddish, she too can be funny outside of her identity.
That sentiment was essentially the mission statement of Black Panther villain Michael B. Jordan’s portion of his cast’s acceptance speech for Best Movie, which wrapped up the Marvel flick's winning night. “The stereotype used to be people of colour couldn’t bring y’all out to the cinema and be able to make these type of films and bring this type of impact to you guys, so the fact that we’re able to do this on this scale, this movie, this project, means the world to us,” the thirst object of the evening said, flanked by Boseman and fellow co-star Winston Duke.
“It’s not just for people of colour — it’s universal. It’s for everybody.”
That’s what makes seeing Boseman accept “Best Hero” and turning the award over to real-life hero and young Black man James Shaw Jr., who stopped a gunman at a Waffle House in April, so special. Or watching Haddish’s crew cheer her on for winning Best Comedic Performance, only to see the names “Lakeith Stanfield” and “Tessa Thompson” flash on screen as the host walks off, informing viewers of the next presenters. As is seeing an established queer icon like Lena Waithe applaud an up-and-coming one like Love, Simon’s Keiynan Lonsdale, in all of his joyous, cream-skirted wonder.
Black joy and Black success aren't things only Black people can feel, celebrate, or connect to. No, it’s universal.