“We can feel one another through laughter,” he says. “And we can get a message across through laughter. No matter how controversial it may be. It’s easier to get that message across with laughter and a tug on the shoulder than with a punch in the face.”
Anthony is back on series television this week in BLACK-ISH — one of the year’s best new comedies — as a father desperately trying to keep his African-American kids from assimilating too much into the culture of their mostly white friends and classmates.
“This show that will pull from our real lives,” he tells me.
“My son has been in his elite private school since the age of four. A majority of the students that he goes to school with are non-black. And that is where we are puling this from. And we find all the humor in that.
“We are going to tell authentic stories as truthfully as we can possibly tell them.”
Anthony shared more about the show and his personal perspective on racial differences when we caught up at an ABC network event this summer.
Five or six years ago, a show like this might never have been made. What do you think is different now?
That just goes to show how society is changing and how the world is changing. Who would have though six or seven years ago that we would have our first African-Amercan president? Society is evolving and becoming more accepting. That is what makes society “black-ish.” We are not defining what black is. You look at everything that is borrowed from the African-American culture in terms of dance and language and style and food… They borrow that and embrace it as their own. That’s what makes them “black-ish”. It doesn’t make them black.
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Is any subject matter off limits?
[ABC programming boss] Paul Lee has given us the reigns to do what we feel is necessary and what we want to do. He told us that we can push the envelope and he expects us to. So that is what we are going to do. But, you know, our show isn’t about controversy. We are not trying to be controversial. It just happens to be told through the eyes of an African-American family. But the issues that we are dealing with and are going to be dealing with aren’t just family issues. This is a story about a family and a man who is first generation successful, who is striving to give his family better than he had. And everyone can identify with that.
You had a different set of challenges regarding race that you dealt with growing up that your kids are not going to have to deal with…
When I grew up, I knew what black and white was at that particular time. Especially growing up in Compton, California. I was bussed out and attended the High School for the Performing Arts. I saw color. My son and my daughter, they see no color. They just see their friends — regardless of what race or religion they are. Racism is a learned behavior. And all my children see are the people they identify with in school and outside of that and how much fun they have together. So that is the difference I see.
Will you have some fun maybe with a white character that really embraces the black lifestyle?
Of course! Our son Andre has this friend — and it is in the pilot — he is going through the refrigerator and says, “I have been craving grape soda all day.” And I turn and say, “What makes you think we have grape soda?” And he goes, “I found it!” It’s like, “You are black, of course you have grape soda.” So we are going to find the humor in that. But that is the reality in which my children live.
As a black man, would you like to see all these cultures blending together — where white kids act like they are black, and black kids act in ways that are thought of traditionally as white? Or would you prefer that some cultures just have things that are uniquely their own.
I just want people to be people. You can borrow from me just like I can borrow from you. I appreciate and respect who you are as an individual or a culture or whatnot. And if I see some things [and think] “Oh, I would like that in my life,” I am going to borrow and embrace it. So this is a melting pot. First and foremost we are human beings. We are people. If you put every race of child together in a playpen, they are just going to play. And it has nothing to do with color or race. They are going to be friends with one another. They are going to love one another. That’s it.
BLACK-ISH airs Wednesdays at 9:30 PM on ABC.
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