Linnea Mayo ’26
Arts & Entertainment Editor
Throughout the history of pop culture, the media industry has continuously tokenized people of color to appear racially diverse and inclusive. TV shows and movies have a history of including the bare minimum (often only one) character that’s meant to serve as representation of an entire group or community, and amongst these stereotypical roles is the common “Black best friend.” Most typically these Black best friend characters center around their white protagonist, and their main role is to advise or support this character and serve to diversify the piece of media. Examples can be found across various classic films and shows, such as Stacey Dash in “Clueless,” Gabrielle Union in “10 Things I Hate About You” or Sam Wilson in “Captain America: Civil War.”
Although these characters are often the funniest and most interesting characters, they lack any form of character development or depth, and are never given a chance to grow. Their storyline is inconsequential to the primary plot if not related to their white protagonist, belittling their experiences completely. However, their role is able to protect the piece of media from backlash on their lack of diversity by depicting the Black character relatively positively.
The Black best friend archetype is yet another example of tokenization rather than adequate representation, and has further perpetuated stereotypes, especially around Black women. For example, the idea of a strong Black woman not afraid to speak their minds, or be “loud and sassy” is a common theme seen in Black best friend storylines. Another especially strange aspect of this Black best friend stereotype is not only is the Black best friend meant to support the white protagonist, they are often partnered with other Black best friends. Although the first time I remember noticing this was Chad Danforth and Taylor McKessie from “High School Musical,” the 2023 film “Red White and Royal Blue” was another prime example of this, where a relationship between Nora and Percy was created simply to pair Black characters together.
These stereotypes have the power to become a reflection of the entire Black community, and if these are the only perspectives circulating, it deems Black experiences and stories less valuable.
This performative portrayal of “diversity” is simply not enough. Although some argue that Black people booking roles in the industry is progress, their only role being to support their white counterpart reinforces the power dynamic of how Black people’s role is to serve white people. This is not a new phenomenon. The Black best friend can be traced back to literary fiction, where Black people were the noble savage white people poured their thoughts to, such as Jim in “Huckleberry Finn,” Delilah and Annie in “Imitation of Life,” and Rochester in “The Jack Benny Show.” These “friendships” were built of Black people needing the relationship to preserve their safety, and the unequal partnership continues to persist in present iterations of the Black best friend.
Black people deserve to be depicted in more accurate and rich ways, where peoples unique experiences are represented, and the character themself is valuable enough. Black people deserve to see themselves and their communities not only represented but reflected accurately on TV opposed to the current narrow representation. This phenomenon is not to say that having media with races coexisting is a bad thing, but rather that we must be intentional about how we integrate Black characters in shows.