Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Cocoa Lounge NOW: The Hollywood BBF

(Alicia Keys and Scarlett Johansson in The Nanny Diaries.)

The following article, "Hollywood loves BBFs 4-Ever" was published today in the Los Angeles Times. Relevant and brutally honest, this exposé sheds light on an old industry practice which can be perceived as either extremely progressive (in terms of race relations in America) or severely limiting (as black actresses are relegated to one-dimensional characterizations).

You be the judge:

Hollywood loves BBFs 4-Ever
By Greg Braxton
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

August 29, 2007

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has one. Sandra Bullock had one. So did Jennifer Garner and Katie Holmes. Jennifer Love Hewitt has had two. Calista Flockhart took hers dancing. Kate Walsh had one, lost her, and got another one with a different face but the same name. And Scarlett Johansson got her first one last weekend.

(Regina King and Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality.)

They're stars who have all played lead characters who experience adventure with the help of their BFF (Best Friend Forever). But in many cases, these BFFs might more accurately be characterized as BBFs -- Black Best Friend -- played by an African American actress whose character's principal function is to support the heroine, often with sass, attitude and a keen insight into relationships and life.

Celluloid BBFs have been featured in the just-opened "The Nanny Diaries," as well as "The Devil Wears Prada," and "Premonition." But BBFs have been even more of an influence in TV series, including "The New Adventures of Old Christine," "Ghost Whisperer," "Alias," "Ally McBeal," "Felicity," "Summerland" and "Private Practice," the spinoff of "Grey's Anatomy" premiering this fall.

The BBF syndrome isn't something that Hollywood likes to talk about, even as it continues to be a winking in-joke among blacks in the industry. One African American actress said that she and her actress friends tease one another about forming a support group for characters who had to help out their "woefully helpless white girls."

But on a more serious note, the trend of BBFs underscores the limitations that African American actresses still face more than five years after Halle Berry's Oscar-winning performance as best actress in a leading role for "Monster's Ball." Despite impressive résumés, solid credentials and successful achievements, many of the black actresses who have played BBFs are rarely offered the heroine role in mainstream projects. Not one black actress will star in a prime-time series on the four major networks this fall season.

And, as has been long lamented, lead roles in films are few and far between.

(Alicia Silverstone, Brittany Murphy and Stacey Dash in 90's sleeper hit Clueless.)

Rose Catherine Pinkney, executive vice president of programming and production for TV One, a cable network targeted to black audiences, was one of the few TV or film industry executives willing to talk about BBF syndrome, saying: "It's wonderful that studios recognize great talent. And there's more diversity, so it looks like the world. But it's a shame that studios also don't have the courage to put these actresses in leads."

Some say it's unfair to even categorize BBFs -- it undermines the talent of the actors and actresses who work hard to win their roles, they say, and ignores the fact that some of these roles didn't necessarily call for an African American performer.

But Pinkney, a former Paramount Studios executive, added, "Historically, people of color have had to play nurturing, rational caretakers of the white lead characters. And studios are just not willing to reverse that role."

Of course, friendships or partnerships between black and white males are a staple in films and movies ("Lethal Weapon," "Wild Hogs," "Pulp Fiction"). But in many of those relationships, the dynamic is more even-handed -- the friends support each other -- or the black male is the dominant friend.

But it's different for women.

BBFs vary in personality and looks, but many share the same qualities: They are gorgeous, independent, loyal and successful. They live or work with their friend but are not really around all that much except for well-timed moments when the heroine needs an eating companion or is in crisis. BBFs basically have very little going on, so they are largely available for such moments. And even though they are single or lack consistent solid relationships, BBFs are experts in the ways of the world, using that knowledge to comfort, warn or scold their BFF.

And quite often, they are the only black character in sight.

"It's a stereotype that's been around for a long time," said Stuart Fischoff, professor emeritus of media psychology at Cal State L.A. "It's a way for bringing in a different culture, and the black friend can add ingredients that would not ordinarily be there. Blacks are seen as being more outspoken, so they can speak with greater authority and give more information."

(Aisha Tyler and Jennifer Love Hewitt of The Ghost Whisperer.)

Opportunity or limitation?
Aisha Tyler, who generated buzz when she played the first recurring African American love interest on "Friends," wound up in the BBF class when she played the best friend to a paranormal investigator (Hewitt) in CBS' "Ghost Whisperer."

Tyler, who left the series at the end of its first season to devote more time to her first directorial effort, a buddy comedy about two female cops that she will star in, said she feels fortunate that she is mostly offered roles that are more complex and interesting than the traditional BFF.

"But I don't know what the alternative is," said Tyler. "I think the more roles there are for African Americans, the better. This trend feels like a consolation prize, but at least these roles are available. A lot of ensembles are not diverse at all, so if it's a shot, it's a good thing."

With "The Nanny Diaries," musician Alicia Keys enters the distinguished class of BBFs that includes Tracie Thoms, Wanda Sykes, Nia Long, Brandy, Merrin Dungey, Audra McDonald, Regina King, Stacey Dash and Lisa Nicole Carson. Key BBF moments include:

* "The Nanny Diaries": Lynette (Keys) warning Annie (Johansson) that taking a nanny position as a lark instead of pursuing a career may be problematic: "The path of least resistance, it can lead through a minefield."

* "The Devil Wears Prada:" Lily (Thoms) scolding Andy (Anne Hathaway) about ignoring her circle of friends and getting swept up the world of high-style fashion: "The Andy I know . . . is always five minutes early and thinks Club Monaco is couture. For the last 16 years, I've known everything about that Andy. But this person, this glamazon . . . I don't get her."

(Calista Flockhart and Lisa Nicole Carson of TV's Ally McBeal.)

* "Ally McBeal": Renee (Carson) berating attorney Ally (Flockhart) for still pining after her old boyfriend, a colleague who has married someone else: "You two were like Barbie and Ken. He's a wimp. Five years from now, he's one of those boring little lawyers looking over his stock portfolio, playing golf at the country club with nothing left to offer you at the end of the day. . . . You can do better."

If there was a poster BBF for BBFs, it would most likely be Dungey.

(TV Veteran, Merrin Dungey.)

A veteran of several television series, Dungey is best known as Francie, the best friend of secret agent Sydney Bristow (Garner) in "Alias." After leaving that series in 2003, Dungey turned up on the WB's short-lived "Summerland" as Susannah, the best friend of Ava (Lori Loughlin).

Her next major role was in the pilot for "Private Practice," the spinoff of "Grey's Anatomy" that aired in May as part of a two-hour special. She played Dr. Naomi Bennett, the best friend of Dr. Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh). In late May, producers announced that Dungey was being replaced by another African American actress, Audra McDonald, saying that there was more chemistry between McDonald and Walsh. The character will keep the same name when McDonald takes over the role.

Talent wins out
There is another view to the emergence of the BBF. Some producers say the casting of black actresses as the friend is not due to any race-specific casting, but comes down to best actress for the role. For example, producers of "Friends" said Tyler won the role strictly on talent.

Richard Gladstein, producer of "The Nanny Diaries," said he also was not looking specifically for a black actress to play the lead's best friend, a character not in the book that inspired the movie. "She just happens to be African American," he said. "Alicia Keys came in and gave a wonderful reading, and that was it."

(Kellee Stewart and Jordana Spiro in My Boys.)

And Kellee Stewart, who plays opposite Jordana Spiro (P.J.) in TBS' comedy, "My Boys," which launched its second season last month, refuses to be categorized as a BBF, calling it an insult to her talent. She won her role as a best friend to a sports writer over several actresses, including whites.

"To call this a trend or to say an actress was cast just because of her ethnicity is to negate her contribution," said Stewart. "It minimizes the talent and effort it took to win the role in the first place."

[Online link to article:] "Hollywood loves BBFs 4-Ever,"
by Greg Braxton

Monday, August 27, 2007

Teyana Taylor: Trace Covergirl

Teyana Taylor: Trace Covergirl

Cocoa Lounge Fresh Face, Teyana Taylor, wasted no time landing the coveted spot of Trace Magazine. Her skateboard-biker-chic m.o. is perfect for the style and culture mag, most famous for its annual Black Girls Rule issue.

Without so much as a guest-hook spot populating the airwaves, this Pharrell Williams protege is quickly becoming underground musics' It-Girl. Keep an eye out for this eclectic teen; but blink and she might just be a superstar already.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Coccoa Lounge Legends [#003]: Kara Walker

Cocoa Lounge Legend: Kara Walker

"Her silhouettes throw themselves against the wall and don't blink." --Time Magazine.

Named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in The World, Kara Walker's artwork is so bold, it doles artistic slaps to the face.

Her fairy-tale-meets-nightmare world of silhouettes are often centered around antebellum slavery themes, and racial/sexual relations. Walker is unflinching in telling it like she sees it, and in doing so, has become a legend in her own time.

Cocoa Lounge Legend: Kara Walker

As is expected when an artist goes against the grain, Walker's art is frequently met with controversy, but it hasn't stopped the accolades from coming; by age 27 she'd pocketed the MacArthur Genius Award and her art has been exhibited in prestigious institutions across the globe including the Guggenheim, Harvard, and the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.

If a Kara Walker exhibition is not coming to a city near you soon, don't fret. You can gaze upon her startling imagery in the privacy of your own home in one of several books about her work.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Fresh Face [#015]: Ayo

Fresh Face [#015]: Ayo

With influences that range from Donny Hathaway and Jimmy Cliff to Pink Floyd, Ayo's musical background is just as diverse as she is. Like fellow Afro-German, Fresh-Face Joy Denalane, Ayo takes genres and infuses them with a dose of her own sensibilities and culture. While her sound is not completely definable, we'd file it in our music collection under Folk: Soul.

Her latest video, Down on My Knees, reminds us of how simplistically artistic music videos used to be... Ahhh... the good ole days.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Coming Soon: Production News from a Few of Our Favorite Actresses

From The Cocoa Lounge

Coming Soon: Actress Watch
(Clockwise: Kerry Washington, Gabrielle Union, Paula Patton, Kimberly Elise, Zoe Saldana, Naomie Harris, Thandie Newton (center)).

Cocoa Loungers are always wondering what's next from their favorite actresses. Here's a look at films that have been announced or already in production with Black Hollywood's A-List Scene-Stealers:

Kerry Washington joins Mos Def and Alfre Woodard in Bury Me Standing.

Gabrielle Union and Morris Chestnut are together again for Perfect Christmas. And the busy actress is also in production on sci-fi comedy, Starship Dave, with Eddie Murphy.

Paula Patton co-stars with heavyweights Kevin Costner and Kelsey Grammer in comedy, Swing Vote.

Kimberly Elise re-teams with Denzel Washington for Oprah Winfrey-produced and Suzan-Lori Parks-penned, The Great Debaters.

Zoe Saldana gets bionic in the film version of adventure-hit, Avatar.

Pirate of the Caribbean's,
Naomie Harris, joins Keanu Reeves and Forest Whitaker in The Night Watchman.

And Thandie Newton teams with Cocoa Lounge favorite, Idris Elba, and Gerard Butler for the Dramedy, RocknRolla.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Saturday Soul on Sunday: J*Davey in Paris

From The Cocoa Lounge

The French fashion label, Lacoste, recently celebrated their collaboration with designer Michael Young and the launch of Plastic Polo.

One of our favorite new music duos, J*Davey took the stage as part of the festivities, with an off-the-cuff performance of "Hi Sun" that makes us want to pop the wheels and go electric! Weeeeeee!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Cocoa Lounge NOW: Lauryn Hill Breaks Her Silence

From The Cocoa Lounge


In recent months, stories of Lauryn Hill's bizarre antics and performances have saturated internet blogs like high cholesterol. L Boogie's remained virtually silent until this telling, impromptu interview with a European hip hop personality.

Aside from revealing that Lauryn Hill is obviously experimenting with something (philosophies, personal expression... stimulants?), her brief candidness has its upside. We don't know how much she's had to lose in Losing Herself, but her keen intellect clearly remains as evident in this response to a question about hip hop music:

Q: What do you think of the state of hip hop right now?

Lauryn Hill: That’s a longer story. That’s like a longer interview… I see a lot of talent; lot of potential... At the same time I see a lot of lost potential. You know, I see a lot of what could easily be exploitative… I mean we could sort of trace black music back and watch the pattern... See how these black folks found this incredible music, you know, that comes from a place of expression and how it gets co-opted and commercialized and compromised and… bitten… and appropriated and taken... You know, my struggle has always been to sort of prevent that from happening, to sort of maintain the soul in everything that I can possibly do.

Somehow we can breathe easier knowing that Lauryn hasn't quite lost all of her mind. But we hope she maintains herself first and the soul later; then help heal the open wound that is hip hop.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Le Chic Afrique: Zulu Rose

From The Cocoa Lounge


Zulu Rose has found the perfect balance of African Culture and eye-catching graphics to redefine global urbanwear. These are the shirts chests were made to rock!

With their culturally-aware mission statement (...It is our vision to fuse the strength and intensity of a Zulu warrior with the buttery smoothness and vibrancy of an African rose...) and a talented pair of visionaries to guide them, Zulu Rose will certainly succeed at bringing Africa to a body near you.

We adore.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Flo No Mo: R&B Duo Floetry Calls It Quits

Floetry Splits

A change was in the air a year ago, when we penned this one: Marsha Ambrosius To Flow Solo. And now it’s official: Marsha Ambrosius (the Songstress) and Natalie Stewart (the Floacist) are Floetry no more. But Marsha has not yet flown the Floetry coup… Enter Stewart’s replacement: up and coming, rapper/vocalist, Amanda Diva.

We’re more concerned with Marsha’s highly anticipated debut album than how the new Floetry will fare. Like Amel Larrieux before her, (former vocalist of the now defunct duo, Groove Theory) there’s no question if Ambrosius will have an audience. As much as we enjoyed the innovative, UK-style Floetry had to offer, we think it’s time for Ambrosius to step into the limelight again, but this time, perhaps, alone.

Because, in all honesty, we hate having to wait a verse to hear this songstress sing.