JAY-Z’s Video For “Moonlight” Re-Creates “Friends” With An All-Star Black Cast
In 2003, Aisha Tyler joined the cast of NBC’s long-running television series, Friends. She played a recurring character who represented the show’s most visible Black character in its then nine-year history. Along with shows like Sex and the City and Seinfeld, the New York City-based sitcom often came under fire for the lack of racial diversity in its central cast, especially considering the context of its plots: a group of young, 20-something men and women live their daily lives in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, yet characters of color only appeared in minor or supporting roles (if at all).
In 2017, diversity in casting is still an issue though the industry has taken some meaningful steps. Shows like Atlanta, Insecure, Luke Cage, The Get Down, Queen Sugar, Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, The Carmichael Show and many others have made the perspectives of Black Americans not only the central focus of the show, but in ways representing the diversity of perspectives within the African diaspora here, in the United States. For his latest music video, JAY-Z enlisted the help of some of those shows’ stars to recreate the Friends intro and dynamics but replacing its original, all-White cast with men and women of color.
Insecure‘s Issa Rae, The Carmichael Show‘s Jerrod Carmichael, Atlanta‘s Lakeith Stanfield (who also starred in Get Out), and others play the roles of “Black” Rachel, Ross, Joey, Monica, Chandler, and Phoebe on a set that is a dead ringer for Friends‘ original design. Complete with canned laughter and multi-camera cinematography, “Moonlight” is a true exercise in “alternative reality” programming in which well known, collectively understood storytelling is flipped on its head to be told from another point of view entirely – and it could very well go down as 4:44‘s most beloved video.
As reported by Pigeons & Planes, the video is in part the brainchild of writer Alan Yang, who has found tremendous success on the Netflix series, Master of None. In an interview, he discusses the concept behind “Black Friends,” saying “I thought about all the stuff that has happened in representation on television and film in the past few years— Moonlight and LaLa Land included—with Moonlight winning the Oscar. And in the context of some of the stuff we’ve been doing on our show [Master of None].” He continues, “There was something interesting about recasting Friends because it’s a show that’s in our lifetime…To me, it’s more of a glimpse at how far we have come as a culture. And how far we have yet to go.”
Yang also expresses how important Jigga’s guidance was, saying “ne thing that Jay and I talked about is the importance of making your own stuff. I know that sounds trivial, but it really is just owning and making your own stuff. And that applies to movies, music, TV shows, art, whatever it is you’re making. It’s important to be the author of your own material.”