CBC host pushes token roles in Canadian media and beyond with Revenge Of The Black Best Friend
Amanda Parris is back in full force.
The CBC journalist and cultural host who has spent years elevating Canadian artists and black voices especially on shows like The Exhibitionists and Marvin’s Room and her Black Light column returns from maternity leave with her own show, Revenge Of The Black Best Friend.
The CBC Gem web series with a Key And Peele-ish sense of humor stars the amazing Oluniké Adeliyi as Dr. Toni Shakur, an author and television host who takes credit for helping the black actors to step out of token roles like the sassy black friend or the black guy who dies first in a horror movie. It’s a fascinating debut behind the camera for Parris: a comedic but equally unsettling show that “critically reflects on black history in the screen world” and questions one’s place like her in the industry.
“Now I’ve imposed on myself that I can never create work that does the things that I criticize in this project,” Parris says.
Revenge Of The Black Best Friend is informed by the movies and TV shows Parris grew up loving, and the limited roles black actors had in them. Think about Gabrielle Union’s diminutive role in 10 Things I Hate About You. And then think of all the other black actors who have filled similar roles in other films and shows but never had the opportunity to show the extent of their talent as Union would after jumping through hoops for years.
The show is also informed by workshops that Parris attended when she pursued her acting studies. “I’ve seen so many incredibly talented black actors do phenomenal things on stage, and then they’re like, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this TV show. You turn on the TV show and they’re like the cop buddy, the sideline person, or the chief’s best friend.
The third episode of Revenge Of The Black Best Friend, The One Who Dies First, stars Araya Mengesha as the black actor on a slasher movie set who pushes his immediate death on screen. The episode is comedic, but the experience isn’t just played for laughs. Learn To Swim director Thyrone Tommy handles the episode like a horror movie, but with an overwhelming sadness, which gives it an emotional boost. This visceral understanding of being symbolized comes in part from Parris’ own experience.
She is one of the few black hosts at CBC. She describes emotional breakdowns in CBC offices with managers, where she had to report instances where she felt like she was being used in this way. She strongly recommends talking in these cases.
“Sometimes it’s important to just confront people and say, ‘I feel like you’re using me as a token and it doesn’t feel good. And I’m not here to listen to your excuses. I just need you to hear this and take it in because it’s not for me to take on alone.
Parris gets the internal questioning that comes with being tokenized – where you wonder if the opportunities that come your way are someone else’s way of fulfilling a quota. “There’s a way it can turn into impostor syndrome. And then there’s a way it can turn into criticism of the system.
It’s a conversation Parris recently had with his friends: Refinery29 editor Kathleen Newman-Bremang and TSN host Kayla Grey. The three of them receive the first Changemaker Award at the Canadian Screen Awards (CSA) this year. The award recognizes individuals who have fought for racial equity in the media. For Parris and his fellow recipients, the award prompted questions about the Canadian Academy’s intentions with the award.
“This question why me? Why now? Why does this happen? Is it really a reflection of the work I’ve done and because I deserve it? Or is it because you are doing your job? »
Part of that question is not for her to answer, says Parris. She just makes sure that doubt about other people’s intentions doesn’t lead her to question what she knows to be true, which is that she is hard working and extremely good at what she does. And she remembers mediocre people, often white men, being rewarded all the time and never doubting why.
“So why the hell am I sitting here guessing this stuff?”
For the record, whatever uncertainty Parris and his fellow Changemakers had regarding the intentions of the CSAs, they were soothed when they saw video testimonials from the academy members who nominated them detailing the reasons for which they deserved.
Being rewarded and celebrated for activism in one’s work also informs Revenge Of The Black Best Friend’s final episode, which is the season’s most introverted. The episode talks about how Dr. Toni Shakur is called in to “raise black voices”.
“It has become really important to consider this work that we do. What happens when this advocacy, this social justice work, becomes your literal brand? What happens when that job becomes all you’re known for and what makes you money? Are you now complicit in what you thought you were fighting?
The first five episodes of Revenge Of The Black Best Friend are largely consumable conversations about how black artists are symbolized in a white industry. But the latest episode is a conversation specifically directed at the black community. And while Parris hopes everyone gets something out of it, she’s not at all bothered if it goes over the heads of those who aren’t part of the conversation.
“The audience in my head is my girlfriend Butterfly from Jane and Finch,” Parris explains. “I always think of her when I write. I think of my girlfriend Odeen. We grew up together in Malvern. I think of the people I know and respect and want to create content for.
And going forward, that’s the only kind of work Parris wants to do. She set a new standard for herself after becoming a mom. She’s only willing to do the work that excites her and helps keep the conversation going.
“This baby is the bomb,” Parris says. “I’d rather hang out with him if the project doesn’t make me feel as good as working on Revenge Of The Black Best Friend.”