As worldwide fans of the Fast & Furious franchise mourn the death of actor Paul Walker, EBONY sends out special condolences to Tyrese Gibson, who lost a longtime friend in his F&F co-star. Hollywood chained Sidney Poitier to Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones a whole 55 years ago, hatching the Black-White buddy movie formula. The genre grew legs in the 1980s with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder (Stir Crazy) and Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte (48 Hours). And it truly took flight with Danny Glover and Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon quadrilogy and the Men in Black trilogy of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones—two blockbuster series of popcorn flicks.
On the small screen, the colorblind partnership of Black and White men represented by Bill Cosby and Robert Culp on I Spy (1965-1968) turned into something pricklier with All in the Family’s George Jefferson and Archie Bunker, but swung back to a bromance embodied by Philip Michael Thomas and Don Johnson on Miami Vice (1984-1989). But how much did any of these on-screen friendships mirror what race relations were like for real Americans?
In the springtime, Captain America: The Winter Soldier brings the Black-White buddy formula to the superhero set, introducing the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) as Cap’s sidekick. Their partnership is a holdover from the comic book world that always made a lot of sense. If Captain America represents this country, it’s only natural metaphorically that his partner be a Black man. Needless to say, Blacks and Whites built this country together—culturally, politically and structurally. Onscreen pairings from Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman in Paris Blues to Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained subliminally suggest as much.
Still, as large as Blacks have always figured in mainstream (White) pop culture, how many everyday Black men claim true-blue friendship bonds with White guys? Certainly more now than in the past, but my guess is, not that many. Yet movies like The Shawshank Redemption paint an entirely different picture. (And the whole magical Negro issue is another essay for another day.) With the filming of Fast & Furious 7 currently on hold, EBONY takes a look at decades of Black-White pairings from television and Tinseltown.—Miles Marshall Lewis