Are Black People the New Guidance Counselors?

I don’t know if Dave Chappelle kicked off the role for black people in Hollywood as Tom Hanks’ best friend in You’ve Got Mail, but it looks like black people are starting to get a voice in entertainment. Aside from Chappelle’s buddy-buddy role in the 1998 romantic comedy, other black actors have taken the role as the white man’s voice of reason. Neo had Morpheus. J.D. had Turk. And everyone had LeVar Burton.

In 2006, the third installment of Mission: Impossible had Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) enduring gut-wrenching burdens with his former partner, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhamses), asking the hard-hitting questions that everyone was thinking. The advice that Stickell gave his respected white friend wasn’t extraordinary or anything; it was with simplicity and conviction of the given advice that made Hunt think.

Before, the people who made characters and audiences think were the old white folks and parental figures giving out their humble opinions. Now in this McQuick generation, people need the wow-factor, and that little factor doesn’t cut it with friendly parents anymore. Most of the black people casted for the best friend roles have to deliver in an upfront, no-nonsense-but-I-see-your-point type of fashion. It’s enough to make the main character uncomfortable, but it gets the job done, which, in this society nowadays, says “Wow” by itself. If delivering lines of sensibility also calls for some great wardrobe styles, then so be it.

Still, Hollywood is the heart of Lalaland, and looks–and roles–can be deceiving.¬†As much as Hollywood tries to give black people some power, typecasting colored folks as the funny counselor, entertainment still has a long way to go. Playing the black guidance counselor for white people means taking a backseat–and sometimes, a tuck-and-roll to the curb–when it comes down to the minority characters.

The vocal powerhouse Jennifer Hudson as Louise in the 2008 Sex and the City movie gave some L-O-V-E to Carrie Bradshaw, who was trying to rebuild her life after an embarrassing break up. In spite of coming to the big city to find some love, Louise helped Carrie through the rough patches, even when she took an absence from the New York scene in the latter part of the movie. Thanks, Louise, for convincing Carrie to reclaim some $500 pumps, but do you have to do it while you’re fitting for your wedding dress? It’s just another way of saying, “Hey, black people, you’re always working for the Yankees even when you’re not under their payroll!”

On the more recent channels, TV shows seem to follow suit in writing for black roles. Nickelodeon’s tween hit, Victorious!, has Victoria Justice’s partner in artistic crime as her dred-locked friend, Andre, played by Leon Thomas III. In most of the family-friendly episodes, Andre ends up being a trusty shoulder to lean on for all of his white and passing friends. Usually spot-on in asking the right questions or giving sound advice, Andre seems to be more of the guidance counselor than versatile music artist in a school of performing arts. Can Nickelodeon hand Andre a guitar without something sensible coming out of his mouth?

Even Disney’s Sonny with a Chance, has Brandon Michael Smith, a stylish, but once again, token minority character that’s the smarter of the Grady-Niko duo. Disney and Nickelodeon practically push the fact that being black is insignificant than being anything or anyone else, best friend or not.

So while Chappelle, Morpheus, and even Geordi La Forge buddy up with their white counterparts, handing out advice and truth-seeking questions, it doesn’t disguise the fact that black actors are still those guidance counselors–without the benefits.

Advertisements