Why Jay-Z's all-black Friends spoof is necessary viewing
Try and name all the black characters in Friends. Go on. We'll wait.
Hard, isn't it?
The chances are fairly high that you couldn't even name a single black character from Friends because, to be honest, there was hardly even one non-white character with a speaking role on the show. If you did manage to remember Aisha Tyler's Dr. Charlie Wheeler - who briefly dated both Joey and Ross in seasons nine and ten - you probably watched too many episodes.
Directed by Alan Yang, who co-created the brilliant Master of None with Aziz Ansari, the video for the Jay-Z track "Moonlight" is an incisive look into the whitewashing that continues to plague the entertainment industry. A literal shot-for-shot remake of a scene from an episode of Friends, Yang re-casted the familiar faces of David Schwimmer, Courtney Cox, and Jennifer Aniston with a wealth of black actors and actresses including Issa Rae, Tessa Thompson, and LaKeith Stanfield.
Even Hannibal Burress makes an appearance in the extremely meta production, commenting off the set on just how asinine the entire all-black production of Friends is to Jerrod Carmichael's Ross. To Burress's in-video persona, making a corny all-black remake is almost as bad as the fact that the original incarnation of the show had no black people in it at all.
Breaking down the fourth wall, the "Moonligh"' video - via its very own opportunistic use of the skin colour of its cast as a marketing novelty - remains self-aware in highlighting how the entertainment industry doesn't actually care about the representation of black people. All it does care about is making an easy profit.
If replacing white actors with black actors will make a profit for a producer then you can be damn sure it will be done. Yang's particular Friends pastiche underlines this through how the black cast we're presented with are still white in every other aspect. Speaking the exact same lines and acting in the exact same manner as their white predecessors, this is exactly the sort of homogenised all-black remake that would be created by marketing executives looking to make an easy profit from the media's under-representation of black people. Not to represent the culture themselves, but to exploit it.
Like Burress states in the video: "It's just episodes of Seinfeld with black people. Who asked for that?" The biggest issue that Yang raises with his thought-provoking parody is the terrifying possibility that it could very well exist in real life.
Aptly set to "Moonlight", a song from Jay-Z's thirteenth studio, 4:44 about the Oscars debacle that occured between Moonlight and La La Land, Yang's video is an ample reminder of just how easy it is to appropriate and steal another's culture.
With lyrics such as "stuck in La La Land / Even when we win, we gon' lose", Jay-Z's lyrics remind us of the lack of credit black artists are given in the creative industry, even when they supposedly "win". Just like how Barry Jenkin's Moonlight, despite winning the Best Picture Oscar, still had its moment in the spotlight stolen from a white competitor after Warren Beaty mistakenly announced La La Land as the winner.
Yang's choice of Friends becomes all the more pertinent in this regard, with many noting how Friends - a show which has become ingrained within pop culture all over the globe - was itself little more than a rehash of 1993 black sitcom Living Single.
There's so many textual layers to Yang and Jay-Z's collaboration that it simply hurts just thinking about it. But using our brains to critically think and consider the racial issues surrounding us? That's something we should honestly be doing a lot more on a daily basis. And something the music video for "Moonlight" should certainly be commended for.