Jay-Z’s ‘Moonlight’ Was More Than Just A Music Video: Review
In Jay-Z’s music video, ‘Moonlight’ he recasts Friends with an all-black all-star cast. But it’s about much more than remaking the iconic NBC 90’s sitcom. This music video sums up the lack of black representation in Hollywood we see today perfectly.
In the seven-and-a-half-minute music video, Jay-Z re-imagined the original Friends actors with Lil Rel Howery as Joey, Lakeith Stanfield as Chandler, Jerrod Carmichael as Ross, Issa Rae as Rachel, Tiffany Haddish as Phoebe, Tessa Thompson as Monica, and Hannibal Buress as himself. While entertaining, the video serves to illustrate the lack of diversity and people of color in the media.
The music video, directed by Alan Yang, begins with a cast of young, black actors filming a recreation of the Friends Season 3 episode, "The One Where No One's Ready," saying the exact same lines as the original actors while you hear the studio audience laughing along. The actors are wearing almost exactly the same clothing as the characters in the Friends episode. Not to mention, the set, the shots, and even the famous fountain intro were the same.
The video takes an interesting turn when the scene cuts. Jerrod Carmichael (Ross) walks off set to talk with Hannibal Buress. This is the moment where Buress criticizes them by taking white American culture and reappropriating it. Carmichael tells him that filming this version of Friends will be "subversive and turn culture on its head" while Buress taunts that he "did a good job of subverting good comedy." Jerrod then drifts off back to the set as the camera focuses on him. He looks around the set and seems disappointed. No one is paying attention to him but Issa Rae (Rachel). Issa Rae has her own show on HBO called Insecure. The show is breaking the mold in real time, so for her to take Carmichael’s hand and lead him out the door is a reference of her real identity where she silently enforces that they do not have to continue with this project, they can start their own trends. At that moment, you hear the audio fading out and the song “Moonlight,” fading in.
Towards the end of the video, Carmichael exits the door and sits on a park bench, that looks like a scene in “La La Land,” and stares up at the full moon while audio plays of the Academy Awards announcing La La Land as the winner. The words hit Carmichael, while Jay-Z’s lyrics kick in: “We stuck in La La Land. Even when we win we gon’ lose.” These lyrics are a reference to a cringe-worthy moment in Hollywood, where La La Land was mistakenly announced as the winner of Best Picture at the Oscar’s, even though Moonlight had actually won the award. In an interview with iHeartRadio, Jay- Z says, “It's like a subtle nod to La La Land winning the Oscar, and then having to give it to Moonlight," JAY-Z told iHeartRadio about the track recently. "It's really a commentary on the culture and where we're going” (Rolling Stone, 2017).
This video serves to illustrate the lack of diversity and people of color in the media. As Jay-Z states, it was a critique of Oscar’s mistake. Hollywood has always been a hard place to succeed for anyone who is not young, white, and Eurocentric, but the world has only recently started calling out the lack of recognition given to actors of color. The last few Academy Awards have prompted outraged fans to take over the internet with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. Moonlight's win should have been a moment of victory for diversity in Hollywood, but instead, it was tangled up in an announcement mistake. This film with incredibly talented black actors was robbed of what should have been a glorying moment.
One of the reasons why Jay-Z choose the sitcom, Friends to recreate was because of the lack of diversity on the show. As we all know, Friends was about the personal lives of six twenty something-year-olds living in Manhattan. Considering how multicultural New York is, it's interesting that the six main characters all happen to be white. With only one exception of Charlie, Ross' paleontologist girlfriend who barely appeared for more than three episodes.
The video, “Moonlight” wanted to display this sense of fantasy that we can have a show like Friends with more African American representation. Jay-Z is very clear on the fact that Hollywood has a long way to go before black artists are treated as more than just tokens.