On Master of None, Alan Yang (who co-created the show with Aziz Ansari) regularly explores minority representation in pop culture. So it only made sense that he mined similar terrain for the short film/music video he directed for Jay Z’s “Moonlight,” a song that explicitly references the Moonlight Best Picture fiasco
The film—and that’s really what this is since there’s only about a minute of Jay Z’s actual song here—begins as a spoof of Friends featuring an all-black cast made up of Issa Rae as Rachel, Tessa Thompson as Monica, Tiffany Haddish as Phoebe, Lakeith Stanfield as Chandler, Lil Rel as Joey, and Jerrod Carmichael as Ross. (Careful observers will note that Friends is itself a white version of Living Single, making this the all-black version of the all-white version of an all-black show.) But the recreation takes an unexpected turn when Charmichael shatters the fourth wall to have a conversation with a disapproving Hannibal Burress. It ends with him sitting alone on a bench, looking up at the moonlit sky.
So what does it mean? Well for one, we know JAY-Z is a big fan. In a conversation with Vulture, Yang revealed that the rapper cried after reading the treatment. At one point near the end, Burress brags to Carmichael that he booked the part of a “parrot with a bad attitude that has a heart of gold” in Pirates of the Caribbean: Cruise Line”. Clearly the dearth of good roles for black actors is something that weighs heavily on JAY-Z.
But ultimately this isn’t an indictment of Hollywood’s minority problem, but a celebration of the wealth of black talent that’s finally getting room in the sandbox. Just look who’s in this thing and what they’ve done in the last year alone. Issa Rae’s Insecure is one of HBO’s best shows. Lil Rey and Lakeith Stanfield both starred in Get Out, which is the most profitable movie of the year, and Stanfield also stars in Atlanta, which is beloved by both critics and audiences. Tifanny Haddish is the breakout star of Girls Trip, an all-black raunch-com that’s way funnier and way more successful than the all-white Rough Night. Tessa Thompson was the best part about Westworld’s first season, and is primed for a major breakout in Thor: Ragnarok. And then there’s Charmichael, who’s show The Charmichael Show has been hailed as the next Seinfeld.
Yang didn’t mean this as a criticism of Friends and the peak whiteness it represented, which he explained to Vulture. “I think Friends is a really good show, it’s a well-made show. So it was less pointing a finger at that show or any network and more of a balance of, look how far we’ve come as a culture in terms of representation onscreen,“ he said. "Look how far we still have to go. And look at how important it is that we get the opportunity to tell our own stories and create our own art. I don’t wanna be didactic and preach to people and tell them what the video means. But this video does not come from an angry place.”
Watch “Moonlight” below.