On the surface, it is simply a remake of the beloved sitcom Friends – only, with an all African-American cast. But Jay-Z’s new video for his track Moonlight from the album 4:44 is actually a subversive commentary on race representation in the media industry. It is a dialogue on the whitewashing of popular culture and its exclusionary impact.
The characters, played by Jerrod Carmichael, Lil Rey Howery, Issa Rae, Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson and Tiffany Haddish, act out a popular episode from Friends, “The One Where No One’s Ready”, with the same clothes, on the same set, speaking nearly the same lines. There’s even the famous opening sequence, using Whodini’s song Friends instead of The Rembrandts’ I’ll be there for you.
However, director Alan Young of Master of None fame doesn’t just leave it at that. When Carmichael (“Ross”) goes off-stage to ask comedian Hannibal Buress what he thinks of the show, he scoffs, “It was terrible, man. It was whack as shit. It was just Seinfeld episodes with black people. Who asked for that?”
As Carmichael slows down, disillusioned, Jay-Z’s song finally kicks in, rapping about inequality in the entertainment industry. “We stuck in La La Land, even when we win, we gon’ lose.” He continues: “Cause their grass is greener, cause they always raking in more.” The track has lines from the 2016 Oscar-winning film Moonlight, and clever references to La La Land and the epic Oscar gaffe announcing the wrong winner of Best Film.