‘Black-ish’: Here’s What Happened When I Asked Kenya Barris The Wrong Question

It was never my intention to offend — or even stir up controversy


The Cast of 'Black-ish' at TCA 2016

Kenya Barris, creator of ABC's 'Black-ish'

Kenya Barris attends the TCA Summer Press Tour on August 4, 2016. (Photo: ABC)

The creator of ABC’s brilliant family sitcom BLACK-ISH opened up a can of whoop ass on me yesterday!

Kenya Barris became visibly frustrated during a Television Critics Association press conference in Beverly Hills when I posed an innocent question about who, exactly, is watching his Emmy nominated series.

“You must have some statistics or information about how much of the audience is black and how much is white,” I asked. “I was wondering if you could share that and maybe share how that information shapes your sensibilities about how you write.”

And just like…boom!  I found myself on the receiving end of a public smackdown as Barris and other cast members on the stage unloaded their pent up frustration with the endless discussion about diversity that they believe is overshadowing their body of work.

“Why is that important, who watches the show?” Barris shot back.

“Why does it matter? Why do we keep having this conversation? Why can’t we see the show for what it is?”

Today, the headline of almost every show-related story was: “Kenya Barris: ‘I’m Tired of Talking About Diversity.’”

>>RELATED STORY: New ABC Comedy ‘Black-ish’ Looks To Blur Race Lines

For the record, it was never my intention to offend — or even stir up controversy.

And I wasn’t even trying to question the show’s “diversity,” so to speak.

I am a huge fan of BLACK-ISH.

I believe it deserves to win an Emmy.

But I also believe my question was fair and reasonable in that forum.

Seasoned show runners know better than to sit in front of 200 TV critics and expect softball questions about how much everyone loves working together.

BLACK-ISH is a program about an affluent African American family trying to remain true to its roots while co-existing in mostly white suburbia.

It is a premise that, unfortunately, represents only a small portion of the black community.

Before its premiere in 2014, there were many questions about whether African Americans would embrace the show.  Some even feared the tone might come across as racist or stereotypical.

In just two seasons, Barris and his cast have done a masterful job of creating a television family that, one would assume, is relatable to audiences of all races and backgrounds.

But they also tackle issues that are somewhat unique to experience of being black in America.

Of particular note is a recent episode in which the Johnson family (led by Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross) dove head first into the ongoing issue of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.

I asked the question about who is watching because I genuinely wanted to know whether the program was merely “preaching to the choir” or successfully creating a lens through which people of other races and backgrounds could come to understand the world the way the Johnson family does.

To me, that would be even more fulfilling than winning some gold statue.

Later in the session, Barris revealed that only 23 percent of his audience is black.

He should be proud that his stories and perspective are connecting with a broader audience.  Perhaps by embracing the Johnsons, we can all take a small step toward more racial harmony.

“I know you didn’t mean anything about it,” Barris eventually admitted.  “I’m not trying to attack you.”

And I understand that.

In private moment afterwards, we both apologized for the misunderstanding and hugged it out.

I will never be able to fully appreciate some of the frustration and challenges that Barris and his castmates experience, but I share in their hope that one day it will no longer be necessary to have discussions about diversity.

BLACK-ISH returns September 21 on ABC.

Sean Daly

Sean Daly

Editor-In-Chief at TheTVPage.com
Sean Daly is a veteran entertainment journalist.His work has appeared in People, Us Weekly, The Toronto Star and other top publications. He was the west coast TV reporter for The New York Post from 2008 - 2013. Sean is the author of Inside AGT: The Untold Stories of America's Got Talent and Teen Mom Confidential: Secrets and Scandals From MTV's Most Controversial Shows.
Sean Daly