Revenge of the Black Best Friend wants to rewrite the script for black actors
One of the most iconic scenes from the 2000 classic Bring it on That’s when the cheerleading team led by Torrance Shipman — played by an energetic Kirsten Dunst — is called out for stealing routines from a black team.
Fast forward to 2022 and a new web satire reimagines that very scene – putting the three white cheerleaders who stole the joy before a judge and serving them with “four counts of dance colonization in series”.
The revenge of the black best friend, co-written and co-produced by CBC host, screenwriter and playwright Amanda Parris, tackles these kinds of stereotypes, tropes and tokenization forced upon black actors, showing that revenge is best served as satire.
The CBC Gem original series stars Oluniké Adeliyi (The wearer) as self-help guru Dr. Toni Shakur, someone on a mission to help black actors become more than the sassy friend, sidekick, or first person to die in a movie. ‘horror.
This is Parris’ first comedy production, and she said using humor to tackle these topics was a deliberate choice.
“For me, it’s very easy to think about it and go to an intellectual space and write the essay and analyze it and deconstruct it,” she said. “But I just felt like if we dealt with this in a comedy, it would expand [it and] maybe invite more people into the conversation.”
Much of the show holds a mirror up to the film industry, suggesting that those at the top are carefully examining how they are involved in perpetuating negative stereotypes on screen.
In one episode, Dr. Shakur is invited to be a guest judge on Thug racewhere three black actors and one white actor compete to see who sounds the most “thug” to get a role in an upcoming movie.
Rethinking 90s Content
The catalyst for the series is a mix of Parris’ own experience in theater and a past stint rewatching shows and movies from the 90s and early 2000s like Bring it on and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She began to rethink how she remembered the black characters portrayed versus how they were actually portrayed.
“The part of re-watching that helped start to inspire it was the disappointment I felt re-watching those shows and those movies and the black characters that in my memory were so important and important to the storyline” , Parris said. “Watching them again, I realized they weren’t actually that important.
She noticed that these characters got less screen time — and often didn’t have last names, love interests, or significant character development.
In his series, Parris demonstrates sharp comedic skills while exposing the industry’s limited thinking.
“I think it was essential to focus specifically on the stereotypes and tropes of the film and television industry,” Parris said.
“Knowing where our critique was going to be centered helps us determine where we were going to try to go in depth.”
The Need for More Dark Storytelling
The success of black-led productions in the United States proves that there is an appetite for black storytelling.
The Jeffersons, which first aired in 1975, was one of the longest running sitcoms with a mostly black cast, while the 90s introduced audiences Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and in 2000, Girlfriends.
ABC’s Prime Time Hit Blackish, which recently ended after eight seasons, created two spin-offs, Cultivated and Mixedand was sold for syndication after four seasons.
Actor Issa Rae Precarious also brought huge ratings and a younger audience to HBO for five years. According to Nielsenan American data and market measurement company, the first episode of the second season attracted more than one million viewers, double the number of people who watched the first season finale.
There are also ongoing series like Atlanta, a black lady sketch show, and Abbott Elementary School all composed primarily of black casts and black crews.
But in Canada, the movement is much slower.
“There is a lot of room for progress in so many different artistic arenas in Canada,” added Parris.
The wearer, which airs on CBC Gem, is one of the only Canadian network productions to feature a predominantly black cast and crew.
Parris hopes Revenge of the Black Best Friend will encourage the film and television industry in this country to diversify.
“Obviously there’s a conversation that I hope industry gatekeepers will be encouraged to have after watching,” Parris said.
While these conversations are an important takeaway, it’s equally important to Parris that black actors are affirmed and feel seen — and that their experiences are validated and shared with a wider audience.
“I think that was a staple. I just want them to look and be like, ‘Yeah, exactly!’ You know, and just see each other and feel like somebody saw them. .”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.