25 Years Later: 8 Reasons Why Friday is Still the Most Important Black Cult Classic
“It…scared the shit out of me.” F. Gary Gray’s apprehensive admission about directing an Ice Cube comedy expressed a plausible sentiment that ironically could’ve also surmised mainstream America’s discomposure with the rapper’s brazen cultural stature at the time. Picture the scene: Cube, a sociopolitcally-charged N.W.A. alumnus whose music and imagery had grown to articulate black angst in early 90s Los Angeles, an artist inspired by the militancy and teachings of the NOI, wanted to make — of all things — a comedy movie. And the stakes were high. A flop could have stunted Cube’s budding movie career. A bombed project for Gray’s blank resumé might have been career suicide amid Hollywood’s customarily scarce job market for black directors.
In hindsight, though, Cube’s desire made sense. From the L.A. riots to gangster music and movies like Menace II Society (1993) and Boyz N the Hood (1991), the tensions birthed by police brutality, poverty, gang activity and all the after-effects of the aforementioned had been profusely documented on the news, the silver screen and on wax. But the displays of community, family, and the vulnerability of life’s daily nuanced struggles had not — especially from one whose profile was so entrenched in the rebellious street culture of early-90s L.A. In that hotbed, Cube was a formidable force with a certain cachet who was able to not only rile but also shift a generation’s consciousness to a particular idea. And his particular idea this time was to use that cachet to authenticate the hood’s humanity in the form of comedy:
“Everybody was looking at our neighborhood like it was hell on earth, like the worst place you can grow up in America. And I’m like, why? I didn’t see it all that way. I mean, I knew it was crazy around where I grew up but we had fun in the hood. We used to trip off the neighborhood.”
So while Cube might have seemed to be an unlikely candidate to offer a glimpse of his neighborhood’s polarity to some, looking back while remembering his influence and social currency, he was the perfect candidate to do so. And he may have been the only one able to pull the whole thing off.
Luckily for the cast and their careers of all involved — Cube, Gray and co-writer DJ Pooh were able to pull it off. With a $3.5-million budget and the trust of New Line Cinema, the Friday founders contrived a project that has become ingrained in mainstream and underground culture alike. Cube’s natural scowl juxtaposed with Chris Tucker’s rambunctiousness proffers an analogy as shrill as Smokey’s high-pitched voice: even in the midst of madness, there’s still something to laugh about and bring us all toghether. From memes to verbs, one-liners and career launches, here are eight reasons why Friday — 25 years later — is still the most important black cult classic.
8. First on-screen appearances for Megan Good and Michael Clarke Duncan
Friday can proudly boast as the first silver-screen stomping ground for actress Meagan Good, whose first movie credit is as the aptly titled Kid #2. Aside from a short dialogue in the opening sequence of the film’s director’s cut, the adorable 13-year-old Good captured the ire of prepubescent disgust of adult bullies with one declarative line — “I hate him.” Two years later, Good was cast in her most inspiring role as the troubled Cisely Batiste in Eve’s Bayou (1997).
But Friday’s biggest bragging right, though, may be Michael Clarke Duncan’s first film appearance. After a role in Friday that was even less significant than Good’s (dice-shooter in Deebo’s knockout scene), Duncan finished the decade with arguably one of the most iconic and endearing roles of the 90s as John Coffey in Green Mile (1999).
7. F. Gary Gray’s directorial debut
Before directing Friday and reminding Ezal of a dry floor, F. Gary Gray had directed several videos for hip hop artists like Coolio, Heavy D, Cypress Hill, and former high school classmate Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day.” Perhaps it was the latter that foreshadowed Gray’s ability to render LA’s usual hardcore cinematic depiction for a more jocular presentation. Friday’s success would allow Gray to notch another hood classic a year later with Set It Off (1996) and fan favorites like The Negotiator (1998) and The Italian Job (2003). He reunited with Cube for 2015’s Straight Outta Compton before helming the 19th highest-grossing film of all time, The Fate and the Furious (2017).
6. The soundtrack
It wasn’t at all peculiar in the 90s for fans to anticipate a movie’s soundtrack as eagerly as the film itself. Soundtracking involved an extensive effort in casting artists and songs that strengthened a movie’s aesthetic. If received well, soundtracks could extend a movie’s relevancy at and beyond the box office. Among the Waiting to Exhales and Soul Foods of the world, though, Friday’s soundtrack is consistently overlooked these days. But with a mix of G-funk, soul and hip hop cuts that propelled the album to a two-week stint atop the Billboard 200, Friday’s soundtrack provided a potent representation of the film’s theme that deserves more credit and appreciation than it currently receives.
5. “Deebo” became a verb
Craig’s bike-stealing, one-hitter-quitter-throwing antagonist has been black pop culture’s favorite bad boy since the days of “Juicy.” According to Tom “Tiny” Lister Jr., the Deebo character was a loose mimicry of attributes he learned from Crips leader Eugene “Big U” Henley who taught him how “he imposed his will on the subject, and he was relentless.” Armed with a gangster for a muse and a towering physique, Lister’s iconic neighborhood villain portrayal soon crept into pop culture lexicon: “deebo” became a hood colloquialism to describe bullying, intimidation and brute force activity.
And “deebo’ing” eventually deebo’ed its predecessor “bogarting” in terms of cultural popularity. “Bogarting,” first used in the 60s, took its name from actor Humphrey Bogart who was known for portraying tough characters in several movies throughout the 40s and 50s.
4. The career launch of Chris Tucker
Chris Tucker was a relative unknown on the silver screen before Friday. Besides an uncredited cameo in 1993’s Meteor Man and a fleeting appearance as Johnny Booze in House Party 3 (1994), Tucker mainly earned his chops on the comedy circuit, especially Def Comedy Jam. When script writers Cube and DJ Pooh caught Tucker on an episode of Russell Simmons’ popular series, he was invited to read for the role of Smokey. And his first audition was infamously terrible at first.
“The first time he auditioned for me, he was horrible. It was a combination of things: He had just come off the road from doing a couple of stand-up gigs, hadn’t read the script, and at the time he didn’t know that comedians can improv, put their own thing on whatever the dialogue is. I knew Chris could do better.” — Kim Hardin, Friday casting director
Subsequent reads displayed the comedian’s brilliance though, and as director F. Gary Gray admits, “Friday is Friday because of Chris Tucker.” He even repurposed his “two things that don’t match” bit for a Friday scene that he first performed on Def Comedy Jam.
Tucker was able to parlay his Friday output of timing, improvisational skill and physical comedy into several lucrative roles, most notably the Rush Hour franchise. Beyond that, his dramatic performances in films like Dead Presidents (1995) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) unveiled the actor’s under-appreciated theatrical range.
3. Friday’s influence on the weed stigma and buddy stoner films
Before Friday, Cheech and Chong held a monopoly on buddy stoner films. Their series of movies, beginning with Up in Smoke in ’78, epitomized the counterculture’s comedic response to the United States government’s ramped criminalization of marijuana use. Richard Nixon had waged a war on drugs several years earlier that roped the anti-war hippie movement’s vice-of-choice into a category of more serious and detrimental schedule I drugs such as heroin and LSD.
Around the time Cheech and Chong’s popularity waned in the mid 80s, the Reagan administration renewed Nixon’s drug assault with its “Just Say No” campaign, and it may have indirectly affected some of Hollywood’s representations of marijuana users in the late 80s and early 90s. Movies then often depicted characters under the influence as exaggerated slackers, underachievers, and/or linked to felonious activities with sometimes life-threatening consequences.
While Friday did rehash some of Hollywood’s stereotypical weed tropes, it also resonated with a younger and more socially aware demographic who saw the lighthearted tone of marijuana use in the film as more of a prop for the film’s comedy and less as a byproduct of it. Smokey wasn’t a slacker necessarily because he smoked weed, just a slacker who happened to do so. Friday’s gag could have been cell phones, as in Master P’s I Got the Hook-Up (1998), and the movie’s themes, comicality and witticism would’ve still held its weight.
For the golden era of hip hop and its culture, Friday was metaphorically and quite literally planted in the middle of the nation’s social and legal tug-of-war with weed stigmatization when it was released in 1995. Bill Clinton had admitted smoking but denied inhaling weed during his presidential campaign in ’92, and California passed Proposition 215 that permitted the use of medical cannabis in ’96. Hollywood chose the more lucrative side of the argument as it greenlit a slate of buddy stoner flicks like Half Baked (1998), How High (2001), the Harold and Kumar franchise, and Pineapple Express (2008) after Friday’s commercial and cultural success. All of these events reflected the country’s shifting collective consciousness on the subject of marijuana, and Friday’s influence on the matter— at least in pop culture — is one that is difficult to deny.
2. The one-liners
“How the hell you gon’ get fired on yo day off?!”
“You aint got to lie, Craig, you ain’t got to lie”
“And you know this, man!”
“You got to be a stupid motherfucker to get fired on yo day off!”
“Her mama got an ass too”
“It’s Friday, you ain’t got no job, and you ain’t got shit to do!”
“It’s just like it’s both of ours”
“You got knocked the fuck out!”
“The weed be lettin’ you know”
“Remember it, write it down, take a picture, I don’t give a fuck!”
“Why you bringing up old shit?”
“But you live, you live to fight another day”
“He gon’ cry in the car”
Of course, this list is nowhere near exhaustive. Actually, an easier task might be to quote dialogue from the movie that hasn’t crept into everyday conversational usage over the years. With a script based on the shared neighborhood experiences of the writers and director, it’s not surprising how a bulk of Friday’s lines have offered a template of comebacks and jokes that are relatable and applicable to its demographic’s past and current daily occurrences.
1. “Bye, Felicia”
No further explanation is needed here. Though one could be reminded that the term experienced an idiomatic revival in the mid 2010s and went viral as a dismissive mic-drop that invaded social media and even cable news. The phrase eventually commanded a Wikipedia page to explain the line’s origin and meaning for the average cultural interloper. Other than that, there’s nothing elaborative to reveal that a fan probably doesn’t already know. Except that you may have been spelling it wrong: Angela Means is actually credited as Felisha, so the correct phrase is “bye, Felisha.”