Updated: Sep 28, 2020
By Eres Croker
Image via Cher
While diversity is becoming more prominent through Hollywood Films, there are many evident stereotypes for African Americans in film. These stereotypes give the facade of diversity, while subliminally downgrading the black community. Through time, there have been some major starring roles, but there is still a lot of evaluation to be done.
There are several major stereotypical roles, but one that appears to be very prominent in modern culture is the “black best friend.” Think of some popular films: Clueless, Sex and the City, 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s All That, The Devil Wears Prada, and countless more. These films all star a white protagonist. Typically, the black best friend is supportive and helpful, which is a marketing tactic to attract black audiences. According to The Washington Post, it is “…the newest way to make the cast of a TV show or film look diverse, while ensuring nonwhite characters never really steal the spotlight for long.”
Although it is horrific, it makes sense. Film-makers profit from the more audiences they get. People want to see themselves in movies; not literally, but see figures that they can relate to. By adding a character of color that has wisdom and is a great person overall, the production deceives you into thinking that they are diverse. This attracts a broader audience, which brings in more money to studios. This also protects the film from receiving backlash for lack of diversity because they used a black character in a “positive way.”
Graphic via writer Eres Crocker
It is not awful that black actors are getting roles. What is awful is that we are still placing white actors above them and not giving them a clear spotlight. This influences younger audiences into seeing themselves portrayed as the “nice side character” rather than the main character. This subtly belittles the race and degrades their influence. Rose Catherine Pinkney, a television executive, told the Times that there is a long tradition of black best friends in Hollywood. “Historically, people of color have had to play nurturing, rational caretakers of the white lead characters. And studios are just not willing to reverse that role.”
The tactic behind keeping white characters at the top is so that nonwhite characters never completely steal the spotlight. Those words are heartbreaking and derogatory, but unfortunately, it is true. White people are not the superior race simply because there is no such thing as a superior race. It shouldn’t be about “appearing diverse.” It should be about hiring the actors qualified for the role, which in turn, means when a black actor is perfectly qualified, they have every bit of a chance as the next person to receive the role for their talent and not because of affirmative action.
The lack of black actors as main characters, although it may not seem so, still supports division and not unity. Why aren’t there more blacks and more whites in the same film? Why does it always reach extremes? In our reality, our world is diverse. That is what makes it beautiful. No two people are the same. Diversity should not be a policy or guideline; it should be a natural occurrence. Of course, it is expected; how can everybody relate to a film when it excludes parts of the world we see?
This doesn’t mean that there can’t be black best friends in movies. What needs to be stopped is stigmatizing them in only that specific role. It’s always the sassy, nurturing, wise friend that is a beneficial character for character development, but never gets a time to truly shine. Everybody deserves the chance to take the spotlight. By formulating this stereotype, we are stereotyping all African Americans and subconsciously labeling them at a smaller level of interest and importance. In this day and age, it has been and still is time to see change made. Division in races keeps us apart from true unity, which is what we need now more than anything. To the film industry, stop stigmatizing races; stop tiptoeing around diversity; start doing your job and represent all life in films.
Written by writer Eres Croker