The premise of Showtime’s new comedy series, White Famous, is on-point. Based on the career of comedy giant Jamie Foxx (who appears as himself in the pilot), the new show follows the budding success of a Los Angeles-based comedian, Floyd Mooney (Saturday Night Live! alum, Jay Pharoah). On the brink of crossing over from comedy club sets with mostly Black audiences into the mainstream entertainment business, Floyd struggles to stay true to his Blackness in an industry that is not so subtly racist. The timing for the show is perfect in light of conversations about the racism and sexism in Hollywood, and its critiques are hilariously biting. But White Famous feels a little late on one issue in particular: Black masculinity.
In the pilot episode, Floyd has a chance encounter with Hollywood producer Stu Beggs (Stephen Toblowsky) — whom you might recognise if you were a fan of Showtime’s Californication — that goes viral when his friend sends it to TMZ. Floyd’s agent Malcolm (Utkarsh Ambudkar) pushes him to take advantage of the exposure, and the new movie role that’s on the table as a result of it. Floyd refuses to take the acting role because he has to wear a dress.
Floyd is morally opposed to what he thinks is oppressive emasculation and resigns that he will forgo fame if a dress is what it requires. A pep talk from Foxx himself about a dress not defining them or their masculinity only prompted Floyd to envision himself without a penis, and he became even more set in his position. Obviously, people are allowed to set whatever boundaries they want for themselves, but this entire plotline made me cringe.
For all the progressivism that White Famous exudes in its defence of authentic Blackness and a rejection of racism, the fact that the pilot’s theme seemed to be “no homo” was disappointing. The history of Black comedians playing women has been a rite of passage that has always resulted in successful careers for those men and degrading stereotypes about Black women. Furthermore, years of dialogue about feminism and male privilege demystified the idea of emasculation years ago. It’s also low-key transphobic that Floyd’s nightmare about being in a dress without a dick was supposed to be one of the comedic highlights of the episode.
Floyd doesn’t show up as a much better ally in his personal relationships. He’s still in love with his ex-girlfriend and mother of his son, Sadie (Cleopatra Coleman). In the second episode, which also aired Sunday night, he is jealous that she’s started to see someone else, and it’s not at all endearing. Suddenly, Sadie’s request for their son to attend private school feels like a scam in light of her new relationship status. A better education for his son becomes an extortion plot when she’s no longer available for his sexual and romantic interests. It’s exhausting.
I walked away from White Famous feeling like Floyd is the man Insecure’s Lawrence might grow up to be in 10 years, and not in a good way. Perhaps the comedian's views on gender will evolve with his career. I hope so.