In this current age of clap backs, meanness and the popularity of anything scathing, you take a chance in offering something a little more thoughtful than dramatic.
Welp, here I am taking a chance. So if you’re looking for an extreme drag or some dark critical wit, go ahead and click away now.
As with life, everything is about balance, and the true description of “#BlackAF” is a little more than, “A kinda black show with black people made for white people” (a quote that I’ve seen several versions of to sum up the first season).
Unfortunately some people are so focused on what they don’t like about the real life of Kenya Barris that they’re using his new show as an excuse to be overly critical and unnecessarily crass. The end result is pieces that are less about the show and more about writers posing themselves as superior thinkers.
You know that thing Hoteps do so well.
I’ll deal with them first.
The Hotep committee has decided to put the blackness of “#BlackAF” into question, and on the one hand I get it.
Just like “Black-ish”, “Grown-ish”, and “Mix-ish”, “#BlackAF” is another show loosely based on the life of its creator, Kenya Barris. With that, the characters on the show reflect the people in his actual life. Kenya’s wife (or soon to be ex wife if he stays with the divorce filing) Dr. Rainbow Edwards-Barris is a fair skinned woman, and their children are fair skinned as well. Critics will say that a show reflecting any manner of blackness would include black people with darker skin.
Really. I get it.
We know studies show that lighter skinned black people get better treatment, tend to make more money, and are overall more liked than darker skinned black people.
Taught prejudice as it relates to skin color is a real thing. In understanding this though, for those using their dislike of the show as reasoning to throw hatred at people for something they have no control over (skin color), remember this is Kenya’s story to tell the way he wants to tell it, and the skin color of his wife and family should’t be thrown under the bus just because they are Kenya’s reality.
People are really acting like the fact that Kenya married a light skinned woman is an attack on blackness.
Guess what. It’s not.
Light skinned/mixed race black people exist, and people fall in love with them all the time, and if I were to guess, it’s more than Rainbow’s skin color that kept them together for as long as they have been.
As it relates to “#BlackAF”, skin color should not be a parameter of “blackness”, nor should it be a reviewer’s central focus or even considered a theme of the show.
Let that narrative go.
There has also been some unnecessary jabs at the “blackness” of Rashida Jones, the actress portraying Kenya’s wife.
Rashida Jones has long been a powerful Hollywood player, creating with her father, acting, and now having added director to her resume. Ok, yes she’s The Q’s daughter, but her talent is undeniably set apart from who her father is, and she hasn’t spent any time denying that she’s a black woman.
I think when some black people hear the term “black af”, they have a perception that does not include black people of lighter hues or people who have the access that comes with an upper class salary. Some black people also believe that if a black experience doesn’t reflect their own, then it’s not black enough.
A few things here.
No one person is in charge of the black experience. Just because “#BlackAF” isn’t shot in the hood or doesn’t display a dark, grimy struggle or dark skinned people doesn’t deny the show’s blackness. It’s blackness according to the experience of Kenya Barris. A black man. Therefore making it a black experience.
And by there way, there are some very wealthy black people in Hollywood experiencing blackness… in Hollywood.
Even though I don’t think the show is really black af (I’ll get to why later), it’s lack of black af-ness has nothing to do with the skin tone of the characters or their financial status.
Moving on from the conversation of skin tone to something actually relevant as it relates to the show, there’s the humor. Kenya is portraying a rude, cantankerous character that seems to live in an eternally depressed state. He’s “tatted up”, calls everyone “dude”, cusses in front of and at his children (calling one of them a “dickhead” at a certain point), and doesn’t laugh or smile very easily. For what some people may “not get” about Kenya’s character or the show, the version of himself he portrays is intriguing in his sometimes intolerable, sometimes agreeable nature, and the version being portrayed of the rest of the family is interesting enough to be entertaining. The family dynamic of the show, the arguments and bickering and then coming back to loving and helping each other, is very real.
Even though “#BlackAF” is in the same vein as Kenya’s other “-Ish” shows, one should be able to appreciate him going a different route in the story telling. “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, the 2000 HBO comedy series staring Hollywood creator Larry David as a version of himself is clearly a model Kenya used for “#BlackAF”. There are several moments where you find yourself saying “My God that’s terrible” to Kenya’s character, but his uncanny, dark-deadpan humor is interesting to see from a black character. It shows Kenya’s creative range.
Honestly, #BlackAF may be more appropriately titled #BlackAndWeirdAF. The show is not black af for any substantial lack of blackness. The average black person may just not understand Kenya’s version of blackness because it’s not one that’s totally relatable.
Again, that doesn’t make it any less black. I do believe people should be able to see themselves in art, so maybe that makes the show less artsy, but no less black.
Now on a network where he has more creative control, Kenya probably named the show #BlackAF not necessarily because it is just that, but more as dig at ABC for what Kenya may feel to be the network’s stunting of themes in “Black-ish”.
He also couldn’t call a show “#BlackAF” on a network owned by Disney.
Due to lack of representation, sometimes black viewers can be overly critical and put too many expectations on one show. That’s understandable, but some of the “#BlackAF” reviews out there are more based in a need to be mean for attention than in actually holding the show up to a mirror and discussing the reflection.
I don’t find #BlackAF to be necessary television for myself because it feels Kenya is a little more caught up with giving the middle finger to ABC than he is creating relatable entertainment. While I can appreciate the creative approach and the writing, sometimes the humor doesn’t land. It’s either flat out not funny in instances, or it muddles the overarching theme of some of the episodes.
That being said, I also didn’t feel like I needed to ask for my time back after watching the first season. I get where Kenya was going with the show. I can also see why some people may not get the concept, but the misunderstandings or mixed feelings people may have about the show are no need for reviewers to be #MeanAF.
Those that keep an open mind and don’t go into viewing the show looking for something to be wrong may very well enjoy it, or at least not find it as horribly negative as some reviews say.
Probably the biggest take away from the entire first season was when Tyler Perry (an actual longtime friend of Kenya in real life) appeared on the show. Kenya was struggling with acceptance of his craft and expressed to Tyler his concern about critics and bad reviews. Tyler, who has been under fire recently for what has been deemed “lack of quality” in his programming, told Kenya to ignore the criticism. “I don’t give a fuuuck” Tyler said as it relates to those that have come at him about his creations, and he told Kenya to keep doing his work despite harsh critics. It was an encouraging moment and a great message for any creator to hear.
While Tyler wasn’t totally wrong by any means, sometimes black creators do need to be open to criticism. No artist makes perfect work, but great creations are not made alone. They come from the thoughts and help of others. Any artist that is given a platform should hold themselves to a high standard, and should not shy away from viewers and fans expecting the same.
While black art should be challenged, for viewers and reviewers, sometimes we also need to stop and congratulate black creators that have pushed through and been given a platform. We may not always like their work, but we can also find ways to remove ego and be more fair and thoughtful in our critique.
Kenya has been given a platform. His story telling may not always be profound or cohesive as with #BlackAF, but that doesn’t void the work he has put in to create the platform he has. In that, if we’re going to review his art, let’s review his art.
If you want to review his life, you need to go holla at God. Good luck with that one.