From the “N-word” to police brutality, this year ABC’s Black-ish has addressed some serious topics while trying to keep the humor expected of a thirty-minute sitcom. Of course, the chemistry between the cast members is the key to making the balancing act between heavy topics and lighthearted banter feel natural. Recently, the cast and crew of Black-ish appeared together at PaleyFest to talk about their series and each other.
As Tracee Ellis Ross (Rainbow) says, “there’s a natural rapport between all of us.” Relationships are key to the show’s success and that is not lost on the creative team. From the adults to the kids, each performer knows how to relate to and bring out the best performances from each other. In fact, knowing how important relationships would be be to the show, Kenya Barris, Laurence Fishburne, and Anthony Anderson did the original pitch meeting for the series together so that the ABC executives could see the relationships.
The bulk of the conversation at PaleyFest was comprised of questions relating to recent episodes that addressed heavy topics. The episode “Hope” addressed the divisive topic of police brutality. The team addressed what the episode meant to them. Series star Anthony Anderson mentioned that he has been subjected to police brutality and that is one of the reasons he wanted to do the episode. Marcus Scribner (Junior) said that he learned a lot about the topic as a result of the episode and that he likes that is has started conversations among the audience. Yara Shahidi (Zoe) watched the episode with her younger brother and it resulted in several questions. It was those conversations that actually inspired the episode itself. Producer Kenya Barris said that the episode is a result of conversations that happened in his own home and not from a desire to be topical. It was not so much about police brutality but more about how you have conversations on these types of issues with your children. He wants Black-ish to be a peek inside a family conversations.
Another tough issue episode was “The Word” which address the “N-word.” The episode resulted from Kenya Barris seeing a text on his daughter’s phone with the word, and how he felt that he shouldn’t be using it. He did not have all the answers to his daughter’s reaction, but he knew how Dre would have felt in a similar situation. For his own part, series star Anthony Anderson admits that he tries not to use the word, but that he still does.
It is these tough topics about diversity issues that made Anderson and Barris take the show to ABC where they felt it would be a good fit. They also recognized former ABC Paul Lee for supporting the controversial episodes and telling them to make the show that they want to make. The irony that he was replaced by the first black head of a broadcast network.
With Black-ish being renewed for a third season we can expect to see more tough topics and family dynamics for another year. With the rumor that there may be an addition to the Johnson family there may be more relationship dynamics than ever before.
Random fun fact learned at Paley Fest: Black-ish executive producer Jonathan Groff is a five-time Jeopardy champion. He also is not related to the Jonathan Groff that voiced Kristoff in Frozen.
Black-ish airs on ABC, Wednesdays at 9:30/8:30c.