The character of Earl is just the newest addition to the most glamorous club in Black Hollywood: The Black Best Friends. “BBF” to those in the know. For years, Hollywood has used the BBF to appease their weak understanding of diversity in film. In Hollywood, an industry so quick to congratulate themselves for always being on the forward edge of progressivism, casting a black person to be a supplementary character to the main white protagonist is business as usual. To be clear, the BBF isn’t necessarily a ‘magical negro’ (a black character who, through their black mysticism and long-suffering insight, is used to aid the white main character), although they could be. Earl’s character certainly is a BBF and a magical negro at the same damn time. The BBF is an ancillary character that would’ve been cast as a white actor but, because Hollywood fashions themselves to be diverse, casts a black actor in this role. Now the BBF is relevant enough that the casting director can feel good about how “diverse” the film is, but not relevant enough that it compromises the white-centered character. (Think of Andre 3000 in Semi-Pro or any of the 102 black sidekicks in the Avengers). The BBF is often the third or fourth main character in the film and is given the worst character development. The BBF is so common and written into films so often that almost all of Hollywood’s most talented black actors have had to become the BBF at least once in their careers.
Take for example:
Michael B. Jordan as Mikey: That Awkward Moment
That Awkward Moment tries to take the romantic comedy trope and make it fresh by featuring three dude-bros not looking for love, yet through different serendipitous moments finding it anyway. Revelatory, no? Unlike Clueless and You’ve Got Mail, That Awkward Moment is about as unimportant as a film could get. The only reason this film is on the list is the great disservice the film does to Michael B. Jordan. Not the disservice the film does to Jordan’s character, Mikey, but the disservice the film does to Jordan the actor. The film’s trailer and movie posters would have you thinking that Jordan’s character is just as important to the film as his two other co-stars Zac Efron and Miles Teller. Yet, aside from being divorced in the beginning and a brief romantic encounter with a woman at the end of the film, Mikey has nothing to do in the film.
This is probably the reason why Jordan, an otherwise prodigious actor, is so extremely dreary in the film. In fact, his performance is bad. Not because he is a bad actor, this is unconditionally false, but because the film gives him no choice but to give a bad performance. It doesn’t care to give Jordan any personality or comedic moments to personalize him to the viewer. That is reserved for Zac Efron and Miles Teller, who are given awkward situations to wear 12-inch long dildos and get hit by New York taxis. These scenes aren’t funny, but they’re written to be funny and are made to give the characters that go through them atmosphere and body. But with Jordan’s character, the film couldn’t care less about what we think about him or what he is going through. The movie would’ve lost no plot or depth by removing Jordan’s character all together, but then Hollywood wouldn’t be able to cast a token person of color to counteract the otherwise white film. This is an all too familiar trope of the BBF. Even America’s most famous young black actor couldn’t escape it.
Stacey Dash as Dionne Davenport: Clueless
Clueless is about a 15-year-old sophomore girl named Cher who falls in love with her 20-something-year-old ex-step-brother.
No, seriously. That is the film’s plot. It’s a beloved American classic. Go Wiki the film if you refuse to believe me.
Aside from the disturbing criminal statutory nature of the film is the criminally short time the film spends with its resident BBF, Dionne Davenport, played by Stacey Dash. If you crossed Janet Jackson from Poetic Justice and Lisa Turtle from Saved by the Bell you’d get Dionne Davenport. Just look at the flyness:
Davenport’s hilariously shallow persona shines as she survives driving on the highway for the first time and contemplates whether she should lose her virginity to her loud-mouthed boyfriend, Murray. Davenport is so ridiculously good in Clueless that you sit in your seat waiting to see what other situations she is going to get herself into. Unfortunately, that’s about all you get from Dionne’s character. Dionne is the BBF, of course, which means she is relegated to third fiddle behind Cher and new student Tai. This is a shame because there aren’t better parts of the movie than when Dionne and boyfriend Murray share screen time arguing then making out then arguing again. Now Stacey Dash isn’t Meryl Streep, obviously. She also isn’t one of Hollywood’s best and brightest black actors. Her acting skills are probably no more than a little bit better than her political opinions. Nonetheless, Dash’s dry valley girl performance is so ludicrously underserved it is the lasting shame of Clueless.
That and the main character, Cher, losing her virginity to her ex-step-brother.
Dave Chappelle as “Dave Chappelle”: You’ve Got Mail
How many people in the world knew that in 1998, Dave Chappelle played the best friend of Tom Hanks in the Nora Ephron film You’ve Got Mail? 10? 12? If you came to Dave Chappelle himself and asked him, would he know he was in this film? And yet, there he is as BBF to Tom Hanks’s Joe Fox, pursuer of dame Kathleen Kelly played by Meg Ryan. It’s not even clear if anyone in the film uses Chappelle’s character’s name. Might as well have just called him “Black Best Friend.”
There’s nothing really exceptional written for Dave Chappelle’s character in You’ve Got Mail. He has no characteristics outside of being Tom Hanks’ best friend and is given really nothing to do in the film. Yet, despite the lack of anything outside of being the BBF, Chappelle makes the character hilarious! Chappelle makes the telephone book funny. He only has about 20 lines of dialogue, but he makes them so funny you wonder if the people in charge actually knew Dave Chappelle was a comedian. He gets so little time on screen, yet should clearly have more. Check out this gem:
Frankly, “You don’t feel bad sending her ass back to the projects” is a line I use all the damn time.
Viola Davis as Delia: Eat, Pray, Love
Eat, Pray, Love is about as Hollywood as a film could get. A white woman, Elizabeth, tired of the espressos and iPhones in the big city, decides to find herself through the beauty of the world. Of course, while most of the film is spent in countries with mostly brown people, the film isn’t interested in them. The film isn’t about them obviously; it’s about the county’s beautiful scenery, spiritual teachings, and the white woman who travels to these places.
Wes Anderson gave this film 2 thumbs way up.
As disturbing as its white gaze at brown countries is, an oft missed part in the film is Elizabeth’s BBF, Delia. Viola Davis plays Delia. Yes, Academy-Award nominated, Golden-Globe winner and all-around badass Viola Davis was a BBF. Nothing more than a best friend who checks in with Elizabeth during her travels, Delia is a character that literally could be played by anybody. Which is why it is so sad to see such a superlative actor like Davis play her. It would seem like such a disservice for an actor who could effortlessly play main character Elizabeth to be cast as a subordinate in that same film. Yet when it comes to black actors, this happens far too often. The sadder truth is that an actor like Davis has so few roles offered to her that she probably couldn’t afford to turn down such a weak BBF role.
It’s no wonder why such a talent went to Shondaland where she could actually show off her acting ability.
Clay Allen is a film-loving attorney residing in Washington, D.C.