Black Friend

by Todd Mercer

Black Friend begins his Hollywood experience in a popular movie. He's cast as the streetwise Minority Sidekick to a Standard White Hero. The day after opening he sits in a theater observing the audience, who do laugh at his character's snappy lines. Laugh with him, not at him. It's a pretty good gig, and the studio's check clears.

He doesn't know right away, but this is the same and only role that will come his way, tweaked minimally from one film to the next. He makes friendships in the industry, and begins to push back against the decentralized forces of typecasting.

Offers dwindle. Original Wife leaves for greener pastures. On a late-night talk show he declares that this is the Seventies, and America is ready to accept black people as whole, rounded and complex individuals in film.

"Haven't you had your fill of shuck and jive yet?" he asks.

They haven't. They've had plenty but they're voracious. They like it better than everything but sex and food. The bank takes his house in Santa Monica. On a temporary basis he moves in with another actor whose spurious fame came from a repeating gig as Interchangeable Red-Shirted Guy Killed on Star Trek. Red Shirt for short. Red Shirt is a decent guy, but he's not going anywhere with his career. Red Shirt beams down to the planet's surface but doesn't come back.

The day the dealership repossess his Delta 88, he surrenders and sees what that brings him. He legally changes his name to Black Friend. Variety calls it a stunt and the supermarket tabloids find it hilarious.

Immediately he's the shortest line between two points for casting agencies. Need a Black Friend to round out your picture? Missing a hip and affordable Minority Sidekick? Call Black Friend's agent. Black Friend nails it on the first take. He's a born natural at friendship. Also at being black. Authentic. Black Friend is proactive enough to push a higher level of performance from Standard White Hero, but he's guaranteed not to steal the show. It's in his contract. As much as they let him shine, Black Friend still has to speak the lines that make white people chuckle. Definitely contractual.

Ten years into surrender, he's tired of being somewhat funny. He wants a drama to sink his chops into. He wants credibility as an artist. Ten years before he would neither shuck nor jive. Now he jives on a limited basis, but he's proud to say there has been absolutely no fuckin' shuckin'. Compromises require him to give 90% of the disagreed territory, but he gets a point to cling to.

Black Friend is the only black guy half of these white actors know, but he's almost family to some of them.

Between takes there are instances where the Standard White Heroes and the others on the set forget themselves and tell him racist jokes. When he asks what the hell they had in mind he hears, "Aw, heck, Black Friend, don't get angry. You aren't really black to me. You're better than the rabble."

"There's niggers and then there's black people," says one famous Standard White Hero as they're smoking cigarettes outside a sound stage.

A dependable Black Friend or sidekick is just as good as any white person is. Black Friend jives now for three percent of gross receipts. He smiles and nods when he hears ignorance.

BIO: TODD MERCER, a middle-brow writer, won the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts Flash Fiction Award for 2015, and the first Woodstock Writers Festival Flash Ficion Award. His digital chapbook Life-wish Maintenance appeared at Right Hand Pointing. Recent poetry and fiction appear in Eunoia Review, Kentucky Review, The Legendary, Literary Orphans, Lost Coast Review, Main Street Rag Anthologies and Softblow Journal.