Everytime I think about the title of the film Friday, I confuse it with Friday the 13th, a movie that, unlike the comedy I saw last night, is a scary flick that I just will never have the stomach to stomach, regardless of its status as a classic film that people should watch. I will always be a chicken when it comes to scary movies. Except for Get Out, I could stomach that.
Part of me put the partial lyrics to the song “Friday” (please don’t sue me, Rebecca Black) because I actually do enjoy that song and feel fortunate to have had my music teacher in high school play a remix of the song with “Thank God It’s Friday Night” by NSYNC. Another part wanted to have a less monotonous title such as “Movie Review: Friday,” the format which I stuck with for most of the movie reviews on my blog up until now. Another part of me is just like, Friday. I am so late to the game when it comes to when I watched this film; I mean, like many kids in the ’90s, I heard about it and saw it while browsing the shelves of our neighborhood Blockbuster (R.I.P.) But of course I was too young to see it. Then I watched a Saturday Night Live sketch for the iSleep Pro. In the sketch Kenan Thompson, a black businessman, is having a hard time falling asleep to white noise machines but is able to sleep using his iSleep Pro, which plays him bits from Tyler Perry sitcoms, domestic arguments, an old lady complaining about foot problems and bits from the film Friday (see sketch below). I still didn’t see the movie after that, though, not because I didn’t want to but because I thought I didn’t have time.
Then COVID-19 hit and everything shut down, even one of my most beloved hotspots: the movie theater, a golden palace of classic culture that can help anyone, whatever their identity, unwind and escape from the stresses of daily life. So I found myself reading a lot of books and renting a lot of movies online now that I can no longer go outside to rent a $1.99 Redbox movie. And I decided that I needed some more comedy in my life. Saturday Night Live nourished my funny bones, and it still couldn’t fulfill the unquenchable percent daily value of laughs my body needed everyday (percent daily value based on a 2,000 calorie diet). So then I did the thing.
And I finally watched Friday.
For those who have yet to see it, Friday is about a young man named Craig (played famously by the rapper Ice Cube) who loses his job on his day off from work because he stole boxes. Not only that, but he has to deal with his family getting annoyed with him for not having a job and the goofy bike-riding kid in the neighborhood who knocks over his trash can on purpose. His friend, Smokey, played by Chris Tucker, comes by Craig’s place and has him smoke weed so he can unwind. At first, Craig chokes on it but then he gets that high from weed and seems to escape his problems. But like any movie plot, there has to be some larger problem going on. Smokey owes money to Deebo, the local drug dealer, who terrifies everyone and punches people’s lights out if they talk smack to his face. Craig and Smokey spend their day trying to get the money to Deebo so Smokey can pay him back, and a whole series of other events happen throughout the day.
This isn’t the first comedy I’ve seen where the main topic is weed. In all my time watching Broad City, I can’t remember a single episode where the characters Abbi and Ilana, or some other character on the show, wasn’t doing cannabis. In fact, there is a four minute montage of clips with Abbi and Ilana smoking weed, passing around a bong among a group of students, and all sorts of other things with weed that would take forever to write about in this post. Although I think it’s pretty awesome that a show like Broad City existed (in my heart, it exists in spirit because the reruns never cease to tickle my funny bone) because most stoner comedies tend to center around male characters, which is the case with Friday. As funny as it was to watch Ice Cube and Chris Tucker do silly things under the influence of weed, watching the ways the women were depicted in the film, especially during the current #MeToo era, was a different experience. When the women try to interact with Craig and Smokey, or really any of the male characters in the film, they are either depicted as objects of sexual desire, nagging annoyances, sassy and jealous, needy or unattractive. Someone else might have a different opinion on this, and maybe they might see these women as strong characters. But honestly, after watching movies like Hidden Figures that depict black women as having agency in their circumstances, I beg to differ.
The history of black manhood is quite complicated, and honestly I took those Black Studies courses four years ago, so I can’t give a dissertation in this blog about black masculinity and hip-hop, but I can give you this article that explains it in a page. The article talks about how society’s perceptions of black men have shaped black manhood, and explains that these perceptions have their roots in slavery. The slave trade reduced Black men and women to commodities for sale, and this commodification split up the work by gender so that Black men, not Black women, were given arduous physical tasks because white people saw them as having “brute strength” instead of intellectual strength (12 Years a Slave depicts this kind of commodification and dehumanization in harrowing detail). Later on, black men continued to be excluded from employment opportunities and social activities that white men had access to, and so rap served as a medium for Black men to narrate their lived experiences as men who are denied access to opportunities because of the color of their skin. Unfortunately, this led to a lot of stereotypes about black men being hypersexual, sexist and aggressive.
And it’s probably why we have movies like Moonlight, TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, characters like Raymond Holt and Terry Jeffords in Brooklyn 99 and artists like Frank Ocean to show that black masculinity, contrary to popular belief, comes in all different expressions and just because it may not be what mass media has historically valued doesn’t mean it’s not a valid expression of being a black man. We also needed these kinds of different expressions of black masculinity because black masculinity is very much tied to sexual identity, and in Friday although he doesn’t use homophobic slurs explicitly, Smokey jokes that he’s not for that “gay shit” when Craig is high on weed and comes closer so he can see Smokey’s face better (Smokey’s face is blurry when Craig is high) and when they are lying in the truck to escape the drive-by shooting that just passed them, Craig tries to hold Smokey’s hand (or was it the other way around, I can’t remember) and Smokey pushes him away, probably because he’d think it would make him less of a man if he did so. In Moonlight
After seeing how the women are depicted in Friday, it got me wondering: are there any stoner films where two black women are the central characters? Abbi and Ilana in Broad City are women, but they’re white. I haven’t heard of any buddy stoner films with women of color, but then I just read, after doing a Google search (praise the World Wide Web) I found a piece titled “Where are the women of color in stoner films” by Isha Aran, and it explains that the reason there are few stoner movies that depict women of color is largely because stoner movies are one of many culture underground movements that have historically undermined issues of race and gender even though they try to be “alternative” or go against the mainstream. In reality, they’re just reinforcing mainstream racial and gender norms, the idea that whiteness is the default has allowed filmmakers to avoid making the consumption of weed a political issue, because (apparently) let’s face it, no one wants to think about race when they watch a movie about people blowing circles while smoking a two foot bong (and the hallucinations that follow). Also, black people are more likely than white people to face punishment for cannabis use, and four times more likely to go to prison for it. Even though there are plenty of black women who support marijuana legalization, they know that they’ll face more scrutiny than their white peers will, so it’s no wonder that there’s a lack of racial diversity in the discussion around drug policy reform. Aran concludes, to paraphrase her, by saying that if Hollywood loosens up and lets more women of color star in these stoner films, then society will change its ideas and open its mind to say “Hey, there’s women of color, not just the guys from Pineapple Express, who smoke weed. That’s pretty cool.” Indeed, it would be pretty dope (no pun intended).