The “Black Best Friend” Is Finally Getting Revenge Thanks To This Must-See Satire

Welcome to “What’s Good,” a column where we break down what’s soothing, distracting, or just plain good in the streaming world with a “rooting for everybody Black” energy.
What’s Good? The six-part satirical series Revenge of the Black Best Friend, starring Oluniké Adeliyi (The Porter) and created by award-winning Canadian screenwriter, playwright and TV personality Amanda Parris with a majority-Black production crew. The CBC Gem show follows Adeliyi as Dr. Toni Shakur, a self-help guru whose life advice is directed at the sidelined, tokenized, dismissed and disrespected Black actors who long for the day when their auditions are for more than the “sassy Black friend” or “Black guy who dies first.” Dr. Shakur is the Iyanla Vanzant of unfulfilled Black performers (they’re hoping she’ll fix their lives), the Brené Brown for all the Gabrielle Unions of the 90s who did their best with three lines and more talent than most of the white leads combined, and the Oprah of diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry. She’s made a career off of pushing against the industry's reliance on token Black characters, and even though she positions herself as their champion, the question becomes: where’s the line between advocacy and exploitation of Black talent — especially when your success hinges on their struggle? 
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It’s big, complicated questions like these that Revenge of the Black Best Friend tackles, which take the series from a comical critique of the cinematic stereotypes we’ve come to know to a searing indictment of an industry that should know better, and an assessment of ourselves. “[Dr. Shakur] is an avatar of myself and so many folks that I know. We have the potential to do so much good and so much bad,” Parris tells me over the phone from Toronto. It’s obvious that over the course of six short episodes (they’re 10-15 minutes each) Parris isn’t just pointing fingers at the system; she’s turning the lens back on herself and those of us whose work is rooted in upending an industry we are also a part of (full disclosure: Parris, alongside myself and sports broadcaster Kayla Grey, is a recipient of the inaugural Canadian Screen Awards Changemaker Award — recognition for fighting against inequity in Canadian media). “It's also about dismantling these pedestals that we often force Black women to get on, this idea of spokespeople [or] gurus, and these false pedestals that we put people on that then you get comfortable on, and you forget the purpose of why you started this in the first place.”
Who It’s Good For: Based on the above description, I’m sure it’s clear this show feels like it was made specifically for me, but that’s why it’s so special. Yes, if you are a Black millennial woman in media, like Parris and me, you will see your frustrations, fears and hopes reflected in every joke about the realities of film and TV (and in the plethora of pop culture references — from Bring It On to Buffy). That specificity makes it authentic, which just makes it GOOD. As for who the show is intended for, I’ll let Parris answer herself: “I wrote it thinking about working Black actors and those that are often cast in these marginal roles, but have so much talent, so much potential, and so much promise who don't get the chance to showcase that on screen,” she says. “I also hope that industry leaders who have the capacity to cast Black actors also tune in and think about the decisions that they make in their storytelling and consider the missed opportunities that sometimes occur when you stick to the same old, tired stereotypes and tropes.” 
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I hope that industry leaders who have the capacity to cast Black actors tune in and think about the decisions they make in their storytelling and consider the missed opportunities that sometimes occur when you stick to the same old, tired stereotypes and tropes.

amanda parris
Parris also thinks that Revenge of the Black Best Friend is an opportunity for audiences to revisit nostalgic pop culture and reconsider the characters we thought we knew. This show is justice for Isis (Union in Bring It On), Chastity (Union in 10 Things I Hate About You), Mercedes (Amber Riley in Glee), even Kendra (whoever made Bianca Lawson attempt a Jamaican accent in Buffy The Vampire Slayer WILL pay for their crimes), and so many more. We may have clung to these characters because they were the only ones we had, but in hindsight, their presence wasn’t validating — it was harmful. Parris points out all the explicit ways in which anyone complicit in the above portrayals should be held accountable; hilariously in episode 1 a group of white cheerleaders are found guilty of “four counts of serial dance colonization” and are sentenced for transgressions like performing choreography with “little to no rhythm.” This show may hit on some hard subjects but let’s not forget it’s just f*cking funny.
In episodes 1-5, Black audiences will be laughing in recognition and sighing at the relief of hearing the sh*t we’ve been saying out loud for years delivered with such clarity and comedy. “I feel like [episodes 1-5] are affirmations for a lot of Black folks, and maybe some new lessons for other folks,” Parris says. But it’s in episode 6 (the one she had to fight the hardest to be included) where the vibe shifts. “Episode 6 was specifically written for Black people. To ask us about the ways that we have shaped our advocacy and our activism, and to consider what happens when your social justice activism becomes your brand, the ways that limits you, defines you, and the ways that that could also potentially become exploitative.”
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We may have clung to these characters because they were the only ones we had, but in hindsight, their presence wasn’t validating — it was harmful.

How Good Is It? The first five episodes of Revenge of the Black Best Friend aren’t just full of affirming statements and quippy one-liners that will make you feel like you’re watching your group chat leap from text to screen; they are steeped in a heavy dose of catharsis. For every Black kid who grew up loving an entertainment industry (especially in Canada) that didn’t love us back, it’s soothing to watch imitations of undervalued characters finally saying all the things we wish they could’ve said back then. And in the case of Andrea Lewis (Degrassi: The Next Generation), it’s downright cleansing to hear her talk about “being the token raisin in the oatmeal” in episode 1 and passionately deliver the line: “It’s years of voice silencing, talent marginalizing, concerned gaslighting all with a big dose of Canadian politeness that just makes you feel crazy that you’re not grateful for the crumbs!” Whew, you know she’d been dying to get that off her chest. It’s cathartic to watch a show speak to the things white people made us “feel crazy” for expressing, and it’s comforting to have those truths voiced in reference to Black people in Canada and its media — not just the U.S. and Hollywood. 
By episode 6, all the comfort is thrown out expeditiously like a Black guest actor on a teen drama in the early 2000s (Bianca Lawson played them all and I bet she barely had time to hit the craft services table). I don’t want to spoil it for you, but when Black Twitter turns on Dr. Shakur, Revenge of the Black Best Friend gets really, really good. It brings up some uncomfortable questions I’m still reckoning with, but I think a show that makes you lose sleep has done its job. 
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It’s cathartic to watch a show speak to the things white people made us “feel crazy” for expressing, and it’s comforting to have those truths voiced in reference to Black people in Canada and its media — not just the U.S. and Hollywood.

Episode 6 pulls off satire with precision and tugs at the deepest discomforts that come with recent pushes for “representation,” “diversity” and “inclusion” in TV and film. Those buzzwords can’t sum up the divide that is happening among Black folks (forget about the push and pull with white people) over how to move forward. “Something I've been questioning for a really long time is this: Is the work truly effective? Are we actually dismantling? Or are we just getting real comfortable critiquing? What are we creating if we're just deconstructing?” Parris asks these questions rhetorically but I still fight the urge to tell her to lower her voice. These questions are too loud, too real, and too complicated. And in one 15-minute episode, Parris manages to dig into all of the above. For the first time in this column’s history, I don’t think calling Revenge of the Black Best Friend “good” does it justice. Like all the Black actors and characters who were set aside, underestimated, and minimized, the series deserves more nuance, more depth, and more time. If you need me, I’ll be over here petitioning for a second season.
‘Revenge of the Black Best Friend’ is streaming now on CBC Gem and just premiered at the Canneseries Festival
What Else Is Good? 

•  Jerrod Carmichael’s opening SNL monologue. It may have, in fact, healed the nation.
• Divesting from award shows that continue to do us dirty. Revisit my good sis Ineye Komonibo on the topic.
• BRIDGERTON SEASON 2!!!!! If the all caps weren’t enough of an indication, your girl is down bad for #Kanthony. No shame.
• The other slate of BIPOC-led CBC gem series that debuted last week, including Romeo Candido’s musical drama Topline about a Filipino teen dreaming of stardom.
• Ending the same way I do always because this is still good and necessary: defunding the police.

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