After much promotion and controversy, Black-ish” is set to hit home this fall
Kenya Barris Defines New Show “Black-Ish” And Talks Race In America
This fall, ABC will add more diversity to its slate of programming with the new family sitcom “black-ish.” Starring Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross and Laurence Fishburne, and executive produced by Larry Wilmore and “America’s Next Top Model” co-creator Kenya Barris, the half-hour comedy series takes a look at one man’s determination to establish a sense of cultural identity for his modern African-American family in suburban California.
Some critics have questioned whether the show, which premieres Sept. 24, will resonate with ABC’s viewers. But Barris hopes that “black-ish” will translate as an applicable lesson on race relations and cultural assimilation in today’s America.
How would you define “black-ish”?
I would say it’s an adjective, and I would even say it’s a dynamic adjective. I think some of the controversy has been around the idea that some people think that we’re trying to define what “black” is, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. I think it’s a really inclusive word much less than an exclusionary word, in terms of [how] it really speaks towards the homogenized society we’re living in today … If you look at the main character, Andre Johnson [played by Anderson], from his eyes, he’s raising kids and a family in a time where he looks around at his kids and he feels like their idea of being “black,” from what he remembers growing up, is different from what it was for him…
Generational disconnect is definitely something that needs to be addressed in the black community.
Did you experience any difficulties or hurdles while shopping the pilot to networks?
We were really lucky. I’ve sold a bunch of pilots, and this time, when I did this pilot, I was like, I didn’t care who bought it. I was kind of like, “This time I’m going to do it honestly. I’m going to try to say, ‘I’ll make the family white or I’ll just make it about a family who just happens to be black.'” And for some reason, sometimes when you just have to go from a purer place, it hits harder. I went to a bunch of production companies and we decided to do it with Laurence Fishburne’s company, because Laurence said he’d be in it. And based on his own life, he immediately got the story … And we sold it everywhere we pitched. I’ll be honest — we got offers in the room almost everywhere we pitched. It was sort of a competitive situation.
Sounds like the mucky-mucks in lily-white Hollyweird were hype about the prospect of airing a black show.
How important was it for you to highlight modern-day situations in which race relations take place — for example, how African-Americans manage to navigate through the dynamics of office politics?
It’s the fundamental premise of the whole show for me. Dave Chappelle has this great joke of how he doesn’t [like] this sort [of] racism in Hollywood where it’s behind closed doors. He likes that old Southern, “fine-brewed to perfection” racism where it’s just in your face. And it’s something more dangerous when it’s not as malicious or done on purpose, when it’s more institutional. Because they don’t get that they’re doing it, and it’s not being done on purpose. And I want to shed light on it, because it works both ways …
Yes, racist azzholes should be more willing to self-identify.
What are your thoughts on the relevance of the show airing on network television in the midst of the Michael Brown shooting investigation and other race-related news items?
It’s weird. As the pilot had just gotten picked up for a series, the [Donald] Sterling thing came out. And we were like, “Yooo, this is crazy!” And then as that was happening you had the guy in New York [Eric Garner] get strangled […] and it’s like, this is still a part of the world that we’re in. And people want to say, “Well, [President] Barack [Obama] is this…” I think in some aspects, Barack has shot us 25, 30 years into the future. But at the same time he has given people the ability to say, “Well now you don’t have anything else to complain about … We’re no longer a country that has any type of biases. Because look, we have a black president.” But that’s not the case.
Guess this show is hitting the airwaves at the most opportune time. Will you be watching?
Image via ABC