And he’s a Black Best Friend.
You’ve seen characters like Griffin, played by “Lincoln Heights” alum Russell Hornsby, many times before in film and television.
They’re the folks who offer emotional support, wise, world-weary counsel and a kick in the pants when needed — often administered with a dash of sass and the occasional finger snap.
Loyal. Cool. Exotic. Supremely confident. And eternally useful to the lead character. These are just a few traits that define the Black Best Friend — the newest way to make the cast of a TV show or film look diverse, while ensuring nonwhite characters never really steal the spotlight for long.
The title BBF may sound demeaning, as a flip dismissal of a hardworking actor. But it’s really a cry of frustration, expressing a burning disappointment in the lack of truly well-developed roles for nonwhite characters that has smoldered so long that it has become a bitter humor.
Once upon a time, the lack of substantive roles for characters of color was front-page news.
Back in 1999, when the Big Four TV networks advanced a slate of new fall shows with no minorities in starring roles, advocacy groups like the NAACP complained loudly about a “virtual whitewash” and media outlets peppered executives with tough questions.
This fall, out of 26 new scripted shows, there is not one featuring a person of color as its sole star.Annie Ilonzeh on ABC’s canceled “Charlie’s Angels” reboot and Shelly Conn on Fox’s sci-fi extravaganza “Terra Nova” come the closest, as cast members in an ensemble jockeying for a memorable scene or two.
Many new series have no people of color at all in the core cast, including ABC’s “Pan Am” and CBS’s “A Gifted Man.” At a time when census figures show America is more racially diverse than ever, network TV seems to be heading in the opposite direction.
But there has been little, if any, notice paid to this year’s whitewash — thanks mostly to the BBF.
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I first heard about BBFs in 2007, when the Los Angeles Times delivered a spot-on feature about all the African American actresses stuck in black best friend roles, especially in romantic comedies.
These days, the trend has gone unisex, crossing gender and racial lines. That’s right, Black Best Friends can be guys of any ethnicity; say, Kato in the Green Hornet film or Detective Julio Sanchez on “The Closer.”
What they have in common — besides not being white, of course — is a devotion to helping their white friends achieve, sometime to the detriment of their own circumstance. And despite the BBFs often having an amazing pedigree, with cool jobs, prestigious careers or intriguing personal history, viewers rarely see their lives away from the lead character.
Indeed, there are so many BBFs on new fall shows this year — I count 13 shows, from NBC’s canceled “Playboy Club” to CBS’s hit “2 Broke Girls” and Fox’s “The New Girl” — that you can stick them in their own categories.