As the country confronts police brutality and mistreatment of black people in the wake of George Floyd‘s killing, ABC rebroadcast a groundbreaking 2016 episode of “Black-ish” on Tuesday that confronted those troubling issues.
“Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris Barris spoke about the timely re-airing of the episode in an Instagram post Tuesday, saying it’s “been 1,562 days since we first shared that episode with the world and it breaks my heart on so many levels that this episode feels just as timely as it did then and eerily prescient to what’s happening to black people in this country today.”
USA TODAY spoke to Barris and actor Anthony Anderson in 2016 about the decision to present the episode, which features two black parents answering their children’s questions about issues that have deep historical and cultural roots, in a comedy series.
The episode, titled “Hope,” explores how parents often struggle to talk to their kids about life’s thornier issues – in this case, a fictional news story about an unarmed black teenager selling DVDs who is tased dozens of times by a cop.
The episode was inspired by a real-life predicament that Barris faced in 2014. He was watching the news with his family when riots broke out in Ferguson, Missouri, after police officer Darren Wilson was not indicted for the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“My second-youngest son looked up and said, ‘Why are all these people so mad?’ ” Barris said. “I wanted to say something super-inflammatory and my wife felt like she understood where I was coming from. But at the same time, she was like, ‘How can you tell our kids that? They still have to live in this world and haven’t had your experiences.’
“Hope” is set almost entirely in the family’s living room, as three generations sit around the TV and watch a verdict come in. Anderson, who plays outspoken patriarch Andre “Dre” Johnson, compared the episode’s claustrophobic setting to that of “12 Angry Men,” as Dre and his wife, Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), argue over how much to tell their two youngest children.
“It was different than any other episode that we shot,” said Anderson, adding that he was a victim of police brutality on two separate occasions as a teenager. “It was really more like a play, and we got to exercise different muscles as an actor than we normally do.”
The episode doesn’t make light of police brutality, but it finds humor in how the family reacts to the situation. Grandma Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) stockpiles supplies in case of riots, while the kids debate the merits of “Trainwreck” and “Chi-Raq,” the movies the teen was holding when he was tased.
“Black-ish” has often waded into potentially controversial terrain. Aside from addressing black stereotypes in many episodes, the series has featured discussions about the acceptability of the N-word and whether Dre needs a gun to protect his family.
In 2018, Barris (who now has a huge production deal from Netflix) and ABC clashed over a politically-themed episode that would have commented on the state of the country. The episode did not run.
In his Instagram post Tuesday, Barris expressed gratitude to ABC for rebroadcasting the episode, along with his fervent wish: “The real hope is that it inspires to you join us in demanding liberty and justice for all – once and for all.”
For more https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/tv/2020/06/02/george-floyd-black-ish-re-airs-2016-police-brutality-episode/3129576001/