Black-ish is one of the quality sitcoms to hit cable television in the recent years. At the heart of the show are the Johnsons, an African American family living in the US. For the better part of the show, the focus is on comedy, of which there is a lot on the show. However, whenever it can, the show addresses a range of issues relating to the African American community. When a situation demands it, the show discusses these issues, without actually making the discussions overdramatic or didactic. More often than not, these discussions are quite emotional, rather than philosophical, which is the only way how one can do them justice on a sitcom. At the end of the day, viewers of all types of races are left with a better understanding of the world from a black family or person’s perspective and are able to relate to their woes. The way the show infuses such discussions with comedy without creating propaganda around them is particularly praiseworthy.
A show like Black-ish is highly relevant in the age of Black Lives Matter. We need more shows that enlighten people in regard to the effects of various social issues in the lives of different people – Black, Hispanic, Muslim, Women, and everyone else. But Hollywood doesn’t work like that. Show producers will not invest in a show that does not have the potential of generating high viewership. Also, taking the sides of one group might antagonize another group, resulting in decline of viewership from the latter group. To balance it all out, show creators have been treading the waters very carefully for the better part of the last three to four decades. With a few exceptions like The Wire, most shows do not touch upon the topics of gang violence, racism, police brutality, and so on. These topics are systematically avoided.
Then comes Black-ish, which is not shy to discuss any of these ‘controversial’ topics. Perhaps the Johnsons can discuss these topics because they are part of a comedy show, which is, by design, supposed to be taken lightly. No network wants to end up taking on such a highly challenging task, and then end up failing miserably to connect with the audience. The humorous nature of the show somehow adds a shield to the discussion of social issues, and viewers can more easily relate to the conversation if it’s presented in that fashion.
Yes, under the capable hands of the show’s creator, Kenya Barris, the show touches upon the most raw topics with a finesse. It is pure genius at work. From time to time, the Johnsons have discussed everything – the N-word, possession of guns at home, police brutality, and the lot. And they deliver it with the power of emotions and comedy in a masterful way. Black-ish, by no way, takes a preaching tone. It is a comedy show. Even when they are discussing topics that are burning America, they never make it sound like a classroom.
All the discussions on such topics are designed to give realistic accounts. For instance, in the episode ‘Hope,’ three generations of Johnsons discuss police brutality and racism. All three generations express different views on the matter, but those views are all insightful and emotional. Nothing like the phony, optimistic bullsh*t or overly pessimistic situations that Hollywood is adept at churning out. Pops (Laurence Fishburne) and Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) give answers befitting the experiences of older folks, while Dre’s kids try to bring out the modern youthful ideas to the table. Then Dre explains the cautious optimism that the entire Black community felt when Obama took on the duty of the President of the United States, while they were keeping their fingers crossed, fearing someone would shoot him before he even became the President.
While the older family members explained the nature of the situation in the country to their kids, they did not become vehement in their answers at the cost of being too honest. This is exactly what today’s parents should provide to their children: an account of everything, good and bad. This leaves the next generation responsible for how they want their world to be. In fact, that is exactly what Barris is trying to do. Black-ish is basically his personal letter to his children explaining some of the most important issues that the 21st century Americans face in an optimistic and humorous way.
Yes, the creators have used humor deftly to help the viewer relate with the show. No preaching. Just highlighting and touching on the important things, because it’s high time these topics are discussed. That’s why we need a show like Black-ish now more than ever. If you have a cable television provider, you can watch Black-ish every week.