black-ish Tackles the N-Word (and Kanye West) In Controversial Season 2 Premiere

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Black-ish’ Creator On Bringing ‘The N-Word’ Back To Television.

The hit ABC sitcom’s premiere episode explored whether or not it’s appropriate to use the N-word in what proved to be an important half-hour of television. Race, gun control, and economic disparity don’t exactly scream comedy, but the issues make up the backbone of one of television’s funniest sophomore series.In its first season, ABC’s popular comedy series, “black-ish” delivered on a mission to raise awareness around various topics on race and family, and that objective hasn’t changed as the show gears up for a fall premiere.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — When “black-ish” creator Kenya Barris confiscated his daughter’s phone for a teenage misstep, he was taken aback by one message string he read.Soon you’ll see American President Barack Obama in a complete different role as he will reportedly appear on African-American sitcom ‘Black-ish’. The show’s sophomore season will address topics including health care and other issues affecting the black community, as well as dialogue surrounding the use of “the n-word.” “There’s a lot of stuff that we’re going to cover, and I’m scared because you always want to tell good stories and you want to do it in a way to get people talking,” he told The Huffington Post. “But at the same time, some of those same stories are the ones that you sort of put into a corner and I hope that people are understanding and like the way that we’re doing it.” The second season premiere features scenes of the Johnson family attempting to dissect the usage of “the n-word,” which characters say and is bleeped in the scene above.

Barris realized that it’s “become for them this word that has no history, no understanding, nothing but that rap has made it a cool rhyming word, or something to add punctuation to a sentence. With episodes touching on the N-word, gun ownership, and health and wellness in the African-American community, Black-ish “prides itself on dealing with topics and subject matter that are divisive,” says Anderson. Barris said he was previously apprehensive about highlighting the word on the show, but has since changed his mind and feels the premiere episode will be a good entry point to dissecting the term on television. “One of the things that we hoped would take off [in season one] was topic-driven humor. It’s lost all meaning.” That epiphany lead to the second-season opener of ABC’s “black-ish,” airing 8:30 p.m. (CDT) Wednesday (Sept. 30), which puts the word in the context of both the multigenerational Johnson family and, more broadly, within black history.

We spoke to the actor for our Fall TV Preview mega-issue; see below for more from our Q&A with Anderson, who reveals how the series’ arcs come to fruition and why Black-ish tries to be as “unapologetic” as possible. The Emmy-award-winner added that the 54-year-old President watches the show and loves it too, so he’s keeping his hopes high to rope him for a guest appearance. ANTHONY ANDERSON: Our first episode back is about Dre wanting to purchase a gun for the safety of his family, and Rainbow [Tracee Ellis Ross] is opposed to it. The N-word is used perhaps a dozen times by different characters but is always bleeped out. “Black-ish” stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross as parents whose crowded household includes four children and granddad Pops (Laurence Fishburne).

The Johnsons are thrust into controversy after youngest son Jack (Miles Brown) performs a gleefully unedited version of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” at a school talent show, and the school reacts by threatening to expel the youngster. Meanwhile, the kids thought we already had one, and once they found out we didn’t, they’re just like, “So, you had us flapping in the wind?!” It’s about me tackling that and trying to convince Bow that it’s the right thing to do. There are some of the expected platitudes regarding white people not being allowed to determine who says the inflammatory word and how and if it’s appropriate for black people to be so cavalier with its use. Jack [Miles Brown] goes to school and does a little performance while dancing to Kanye West and Jamie Foxx’s “Gold Digger,” and he says the N-word on stage and gets expelled from school for hate speech. It’s about who has the right to say that word — should it be said at all? — and it’s definitely not hate speech coming from a 9-year-old kid who has not an ounce of hate in his body, but he was expelled for singing along to the lyrics from a song.

For some African-Americans there’s “some kind of community within the idea that that’s what we’ve been called in this country,” and it’s now theirs to own. “We were going to fight to have it said once or twice, but hearing it felt like a barrier to entry” for viewers, he said, with the bleep enough to evoke its power. But they never say ‘cracker,’ or ‘devil’ or any other derogatory term about any other race but blacks,” Banner said in the Instagram clip. “Where do you draw the line? Because of that divisiveness, people are able to have a dialogue about it and sometimes you come away with a different perspective than the one you entered the conversation with.

The second one he credits to veteran TV producer Norman Lear, who made socially relevant comedies including “All in the Family.” Viewers should enjoy the show with their family, Barris suggested, then “let’s talk to our kids we just watched this with and start a conversation.” Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. What do you stand for?” It’s unclear if Banner was referring to biracial and white rappers using the term in their music or those who bemoan the fact that they are prohibited from tossing the word about with abandon. There was a backlash against rapper Post Malone on social media earlier this month, after an old video surfaced of him uttering “Yeah, we watch ‘Too Cute,’ nigga.” Malone apologized for the video during an appearance on DJ Drama’s Gangsta Grillz radio show on Shade 45. “Well, it was a video, I mean but it’s unacceptable and I made a mistake,” he replied. “I just wanna apologize. Dre’s reaction to Jack’s situation may not sit well with some viewers, but it doesn’t seem that “The Word” is meant to answer questions—especially not for the white people who may be watching.

But what black-ish is doing is a presentation of a very black conversation, and this show is at its best when it manages to succinctly capture the complex and confounding aspects of navigating black culture in white spaces. To put that in perspective, FOX’s Empire boasted a whopping 61 percent African American audience after its first four weeks last season, according to Nielsen—more than any show in primetime history.

When we met for the first time, we met to talk about business but we ended up talking about each other and found out that we had more in common than not. A show that can sometimes feel all-too-proud to have “complex” black conversations should be mindful of letting white characters—and thus, viewers—coast on convenient ignorance or watch with a bemused detachment that ignores white culpability in these cultural phenomena. Famous controversies involving notables like Hulk Hogan or Riley Cooper have become catalysts for discussions about “the word,” but the national dialogue would’ve been better served by commentators focusing on the casual racism that these “I have black friends” types of bigots exhibit when they believe they are behind closed doors. In that respect, the “N-word” has become the ultimate racial red herring—a dastardly, hot-button scapegoat that can dominate panels and symposiums as everyone pretends we’re having a ”real dialogue” instead of examining white privilege or deconstructing anti-blackness.

In her Emmy speech, Viola Davis reminded everyone that there have always been Emmy-worthy black actors—if there had only been more opportunities for them to showcase their talents in content worthy of those talents. Now, these writers are creating content that speaks to black experiences but they are doing so via white outlets—which is frustrating for those who want true black artistic autonomy but necessary given the size and reach of those outlets.

Like, “Okay, all of this is yours, but we just resodded the field so you can’t go there just yet,” and, “We just painted the basketball court so the paint is still drying. When Missy (Teyonah Parris) struggles with the decision to go natural on Survivor’s Remorse, or when Jerrod Carmichael and his family on The Carmichael Show debate Black Lives Matter, there are subtleties that speak directly to the experiences of black viewers. The voice is why black-ish isn’t having the N-word conversation to “explain” anything to white America in as much as it’s examining black folks’ complicated relationship with the word. You won’t come away from the black-ish season premiere with any clarity regarding the N-word—but you likely already knew where you stood long before this Wednesday night at 9 p.m.

What’s it like to be able to project that experience — almost a series of teachable moments — to an audience that may have never had to experience that sort of thing before? I’m not in the writers’ room, but Kenya and I will sit down and talk about life and all of a sudden there’ll be a complete episode based on a conversation we had. In another [season 2] episode, Pops [Laurence Fishburne] has to go to the hospital to get checked out, and he brags about not having gone to the hospital in 35 years. “I’ll just take aspirin,” you know, and then when he goes to the hospital he finds out something is really wrong with him and we have to deal with that.

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