Up Next

Pots And Pans

Our ‘around the way girls’ don’t take no mess

Tiffany Haddish, Taraji P. Henson, Serena Williams and Michelle Obama are all about black girl magic

My movie over, I stood inside the Manhattan multiplex and looked at a series of pictures from some of Hollywood’s most iconic films, including Casablanca, The Godfather and The Wizard of Oz. As my eyes landed upon each image, lines from the respective films resonated in my head.

I smiled. Catchphrases from classic films take hold and keep us in their grasp for generations.

Then my eyes landed upon the picture for Crazy Rich Asians, the biggest image of them all. And I wondered if the hit romantic comedy I’d just seen, a delicious modern fairy tale for adults, might produce a catchphrase that could take its place alongside Casablanca‘s “We’ll always have Paris,” The Godfather‘s “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse” and The Wizard of Oz‘s “There’s no place like home.”

Largely set in Singapore, Crazy Rich Asians stars Henry Golding as the dashing Nick Young, the handsome prince of high and rich society who seeks true love with his Cinderella, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a New York college professor from a modest background who some of his associates and family members assert has no business being invited to the ball.

If the square-jawed prince with the British accent wants his true love, he must fight for her. If his true love wants her prince, she must take off her glass slippers and use them to beat back her detractors.

“Bawk, Bawk, b—-,” says Awkwafina’s Goh Peik Lin, the film’s would-be court jester. That’s the way she summarizes the attitude her friend Rachel must employ to win the game of chicken with her prim and prickly prospective mother-in-law, Eleanor Sung-Young. She’s played in regal and vulnerable grandeur by Michelle Yeoh, a former action film star and (James) Bond girl.

To be sure, “Bawk, Bawk b—-” doesn’t have the same ring to it as Gone with the Wind’s “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” But give it time.

For now, Awkwafina, a rapper in real life, renders the line hilariously in the movie. More important, Awkwafina’s role invokes the worldwide influence of the black around the way girl: No matter who you are or where you live, some sentiments are best served with the attitude well-known in the no-nonsense communities in East Baltimore or West Philly, South Chicago or North Oakland.

Consequently, the sense and sensibility of the black American around the way girl is used by people of various backgrounds to present a certain kind of freshness and frankness, just as British accents connote an elite bearing and French accents connote sophisticated style, at least to some.

Indeed, Hollywood has two reigning around the way girls: L.A.’s Tiffany Haddish (Night School) and Taraji P. Henson (What Men Want). The latter, a Washington, D.C., native and a Howard University grad, has written a book called Around the Way Girl: A Memoir.

But the celebrity around the way girl is not limited to Hollywood. For more than 30 years, TV and radio talk show host Wendy Williams has brought the around the way girl persona to her listeners and viewers: She’s talked about her life and other people’s with bracing candor one can overhear at the neighborhood beauty salon or corner bar.

In 2009, Serena Williams went straight around the way girl when she denounced a female tennis official who she believed treated her unfairly at the US Open.

Girl, you don’t know.

Today, Michelle Obama, a native of South Side Chicago, stands as the ultimate around the way girl. The former first lady is a strong and smart woman with two Ivy League degrees and great gifts of compassion and determination. At 54, she is equally at home at the White House, in the boardroom or jumping rope double Dutch.

She says she succeeded despite being born into circumstances that provided little wealth, few material resources and limited social standing. She says she’s learned how to recognize and eliminate the haters from her life. She goes to war against naysayers and takes no prisoners.

Next month, she’ll mark 26 years of marriage to husband Barack, whom she helped become the nation’s first black president. Besides their political achievements, they’ve raised two engaging daughters in front of the world.

Now through the nonpartisan organization When We All Vote, she’s championing the effort to get more people to vote and take responsibility for their futures and the nation’s. Obama calls voting an American citizen’s basic right and responsibility. Although she loves to have fun, the former first lady doesn’t play when it comes to serious things.

Around the way girls never do.

A graduate of Hampton University, Jeff Rivers worked for Ebony, HBO and three daily newspapers, winning multiple awards for his columns. Jeff and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children, a son Marc and a daughter Lauren.