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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 is when the cheerleading team led by Torrance Shipman — played by a peppy Kirsten Dunst — gets called out for stealing routines from a Black squad.

Fast-forward to 2022 and a new web satire is rethinking that very scene — putting the three white cheerleaders who stole the cheer in front of a judge and serving them with “four counts of serial dance colonization.”

Revenge of the Black Best Friend, co-written and co-produced by CBC host, screenwriter and playwright Amanda Parris, tackles those kinds of stereotypes, tropes, and tokenization thrust on Black actors, showing that revenge is best served as satire.

The CBC Gem original series stars Oluniké Adeliyi (The Porter) as self-help guru Dr. Toni Shakur, someone on a mission to help Black actors rise to be more than just the sassy friend, the sidekick or the first person to die in a horror movie.

CBC host, writer and playwright Amada Parris highlights the “simplistic and tokenized” roles Black actors play on screen in her new satire, Revenge of the Black Best Friend. (Dustin Rabin)

It’s Parris’s first comedy production, and she said using humour to tackle these topics was a deliberate choice.

“For me it’s very easy to think about this topic and go to an intellectual space and to write the essay and to analyze and deconstruct it,” she said. “But I just felt like if we dealt with this in a comedy, it would widen [it and] maybe invite more people into the conversation.”

Much of the show holds a mirror up to the film industry, suggesting those at the top take a good look at how they’re involved in perpetuating negative stereotypes on screen. 

In one episode, Dr. Shakur is asked to be a guest judge on Thug Race, where three Black actors and one white actor compete to see who sounds the most “thug” to secure a speaking role in an upcoming film. 

Rethinking ’90s content

The catalyst for the series is a mix of Parris’s own experience in theatre and a stint spent re-watching shows and movies from the ’90s and early 2000s like Bring It On and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She began rethinking about how she remembered the Black characters being represented compared to how they were actually portrayed.

“The part of the re-watching that helped to start inspiring it was the disappointment that I felt re-watching these shows and movies and the Black characters who, in my memory, were so prominent and important to the storyline,” said Parris. “As I re-watched, I realized they actually weren’t that important. 

She noticed these characters spent less time on screen — and they often didn’t have last names, love interests or significant character development. 

In her series, Parris demonstrates sharp comedic skills while exposing the industry’s limited thinking.

“I think keeping our focus specifically on the stereotypes and tropes of the film and television industry was critical,” said Parris.

“Knowing where our critique was going to be centered helps us to determine where we were going to try to go deeply.”

The need for more Black storytelling

The success of Black-led productions in the U.S. proves there is an appetite for Black storytelling. 

The Jeffersons, which first aired in 1975, was one of the longest-running sitcoms with a primarily Black cast, while the ’90s introduced audiences to Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and in 2000, Girlfriends.

ABC’s primetime hit Black-ish, which recently ended after eight seasons, created two spinoffs, Grown-ish and Mixed-ish, and was sold for syndication after four seasons.

Creator, executive producer and lead actor Issa Rae poses at the premiere for the television series Insecure in Los Angeles in 2016. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Actor Issa Rae’s Insecure also brought huge ratings and a younger audience to HBO for five years. According to Nielsen, an American data and market measuring firm, the first episode of the second season had more than one million viewers — double the number of people who watched the finale of season one.

There’s also ongoing series like Atlanta, A Black Lady Sketch Show, and Abbott Elementary all made up of mostly Black casts and Black crews.

But in Canada, the movement is much slower. 

“There’s a lot of room for progress in so many different artistic arenas in Canada,” Parris added.

The Porter, which is streaming on CBC Gem, is one of the only Canadian-network productions that features a primarily Black cast and crew.

The cast of The Porter appear in a scene from season one. The series, which focuses on the plight of Black railway porters and the eventual creation of North America’s first Black labour union, is a rare look into Black Canadian history on screen. (Shauna Townley)

Parris hopes Revenge of the Black Best Friend will spark this country’s film and television industry to diversify. 

“Obviously there’s a conversation I hope industry gatekeepers will hopefully be instigated to have after watching,” Parris said.

While these conversations are an important takeaway, equally as important to Parris is for Black actors to be affirmed and feel seen — and to have their experiences validated and shared with a wider audience.

“I think that was a core part of it. I just want them to watch and be like, ‘Yeah, exactly!’ You know, and to just see themselves and feel like somebody has seen them.”

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.




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