Black-ish has been one of the few positives in ABC’s sitcom programming this year. While initial criticism seemed to feel the shoe was stereotypical in one way or another, subsequent episodes have found the show fits that sweet spot between The Cosby Show and Dear White People. Show creator Kenya Barris, 40, (pictured below) already a Hollywood player, says that it’s based on his real life.
“I’m married to a doctor and we have five kids,” Barris told the Tom Joyner Morning Show. “It centers around that. We both sort of came up in a different situation than we are now and our kids came up in a way different situation. That’s where the idea came from.”
Early comparisons to The Cosby Show have been muted given Cosby’s recent troubles in the media, but Barris says that yes, he grew up watching the Huxtables and is flattered by the comparison. But he’s certainly liked to be viewed by the Cosby’s universal success.
“It bothers me sometimes that it’s considered a Black show,” Barris says. “‘Modern Family”’s not a white show. We’re a show that we’re proud to have a predominantly African-American cast, but it’s a family show. I think that’s where the comparisons should stop. As much as I love The Cosby Show, it’s something that we grew up on it will always stay with us, I feel like we set out to do something different. The Cosby Show was about a family that happened to be Black and we wanted to do a show about a family that was absolutely Black.”
Barris’ casting certainly helped. Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross and Larry Fishburne are the stars of a cast that include relative newcomers Marcus Scribner, Yara Shahidi, Miles Brown and Marsai Martin who play the kids. They routinely steal scenes from the veterans each episode.
“They’ve been like that since the audition,” Barris says of the cast. “We knew very quickly that we had something special…It honestly feels like you’re with a family every week.”
Barris’s own kids even like the show. “My son thinks he’s Jack,” he says.
Black-ish is reflective of the so-called post-racial America that has turned out to not be so post-racial at all.
“That’s what made me do the show,” Barris says. “We’re talking about race – honestly, openly – less than we ever have. And we have more going on that needs to be talked about than ever. Ferguson, to me, was completely based on a community who really didn’t feel like they had a voice. And now you see what happened.”
Will black-ish touch upon those issues? Not yet, says Barris, who says he wants to be sensitive to the individuals and issues involved.
“We’d love to do something based around injustice. We are doing a Martin Luther King episode and we’re really proud of that.” (Their spanking episode was done well before the Adrian Peterson controversy.) “As we do on the show, we’ll try to do it in a different way. But just something about what its like to be a kid and stand up for injustice.
Black-ish, which hasn’t yet picked up a second season order, though Barris has his “fingers crossed,” airs on Wednesday nights at 9:30 p.m.