Welcome to the age of the bromance—a comedy, at times romantic, that showcases a deep-rooted, affectionate, borderline gay relationship between two or more white men. Lately, Hollywood has been packing and repacking the same successful recipe for male bonding on film: hijinks, dirty jokes and a handful of “hetero” man love sprinkled throughout.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express and the forthcoming Couples Retreat all follow the bromance formula with a mostly white cast.
But what happens when one of the bros is a brother? So far, nothing good. Bromanticism has been unkind to “the black friend.” We’ve seen plenty of funny moments, but most at the black buddy’s expense.
The ebony/ivory technique has obviously been used in films before, but until recently, interracial friendships among men have typically evolved within action flicks. Take Agent K in Men in Black. Here, “the black friend,” played by Will Smith, is one of a fearsome duo—the unruly, ass-kicking other half to a white male lead:
On the plus side, the two characters do share roughly equal amounts of screen time, solid one-liners and a back story to overcome. (Ditto for 48 Hours, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard with a Vengance … etc.) But when they aren’t toting guns or blowing up things, the black friend is strictly relegated to the sidelines.
Remember Dave Chappelle as Kevin, Tom Hanks’ funny-guy assistant/friend in You’ve Got Mail? How about Jamie Foxx’s “all that and a bag of chips” part in The Truth About Cats and Dogs? Exactly. And those two weren’t just the black friend, they were the only friends. Check out Foxx’s barely there buddy appearance:
The rocky landscape for black actors (and actresses) on film have made most audiences familiar with the use of black characters as scenery, serving as a colorful character dot amid a sea of white antics. But in the blooming genre of bromance, with its spotlight on true friendship and brotherly love, this pigeon-holing becomes even more puzzling.
Like the black BFF to the white female lead, the black friend—beyond adding to the color scheme—tends to be the know-it-all for his clueless white counterpart. He provides advice and sassy one-liners a la Dwayne the bartender from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Dwayne, a South Central, L.A., native turned Hawaiian transplant, served up drinks to breakup victim, Peter Bretter—along with some blunt advice. But Dwayne, while lovable, had a character arc that was limited, if not non-existent. This carefree black friend, with his extra-large Hawaiian shirt and clever banter, was lost alongside other buddies like Kunu, the stoned surfing instructor and sex-conscious newlywed Darald—both white.
But tokenism, like the ebony/ivory routine, is nothing new to the big screen. What is new, at least in the world of bromance, is the haphazard treatment of the lonesome black buddy’s sexuality. In films like Marshall, The 40-Year Old Virgin and Pineapple Express, the black bud is both big in stature and personality. He is introduced at the beginning of the film as the epitome of masculinity and is eventually emasculated in some way by the time the credits roll.
Dwayne, for example, was seen sulking alone in one of his final scenes, presumably because no one would go snorkeling with him.
By film’s end, Jay is found crying, confessing to putting on a front because he’s so insecure.
And no less emasculating was Craig Robinson’s character in Pineapple Express. As Matheson, the wild card assassin, he fought his partner Budlofsky just as much as he made passes at James Franco’s character. Matheson’s last words included telling Saul (Franco’s character) to sit his “little sexy ass down.” He then met his end by screaming shrilly as a car hit him head on. This was after he killed his partner for going “soft.”
It’s worth noting that The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Pineapple Express all bear the mark of screenwriter/director/producer Judd Apatow and his bromance brainchild, Seth Rogen. Yet even without Apatow or Rogen’s help, the newest buddy flick, directed by Peter Billingsley, appears to follow the trend in its treatment of the black friend:
Already, Faizon Love, the resident black friend in Couples Retreat is tied up and pantsed—and the movie hasn’t even opened. If this is what it takes to be one of the boys, the brothers may just be better off fading to black.
Saaret E. Yoseph is assistant editor of The Root.
Saaret Yoseph is a writer and Assistant Editor at TheRoot.com. She manages and blogs for \"Their Eyes Were Watching …\"