Kenya Barris Interview: ‘#blackAF’
“The whole purpose of this show is to be unabashedly real, honest and outrageous,” admits creator and star Kenya Barris about his new Netflix comedy “#blackAF.” “I wanted to show a different image of black culture,” he says, adding that the show ultimately attempts to spotlight, in an authentic and outspoken way, “the dual nature of being Black and American in this country.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Barris above.
In “#blackAF,” Barris plays a satirized and fictionalized version of himself. He’s a successful TV producer living the high life in an LA mansion with his six kids and spirited wife played by Rashida Jones. The show is set within a ‘mockumentary’ format, as daughter Drea (Iman Benson) shoots a documentary for her college application. It is a daring, irreverent and funny look at an African-American family that has all the money in the world but just as many problems. At its heart, “#blackAF” explores and challenges preconceived notions about race, culture, money, fame and family in a very unfiltered way, or as it’s described on Netflix, “pulling the curtain back” in a “reboot of the family sitcom in a way we’ve never seen before.”
“I got criticized a lot for it by some people because they’re like well this is just doing ‘black-ish’ again and I am absolutely doing a version of my story and I might do it again!” Barris reveals. “In this, the thematic narrative is showing what it’s like to be black in America and being “black as f*ck.” The “as f*ck” hashtag or “as f*ck” marketing on social media really has shown that we’re a generation now that wants the most pure and authentic version of whatever your thing is. If you’re gay, if you’re fat, if you’re white, if you’re Spanish, whatever the case is, what is the most pure authentic version for you, because it’s not a monolithic branding of any person. What’s the most authentic version of your part of that experience and this is for me my most authentic version.”
Barris is pleased that his show has “made some noise,” he says. At this stage in his career, he believes it’s necessary to start conversations about topics and issues that are important and timely, like black authenticity and representation in art. “It’s been probably one of the most rewarding creative experiences I have ever been through,” he declares. “I like to do things that are in some way polarizing, because what they do is they start conversations. I think that this is one of the most hashtagged comedies in the history of Twitter. Honestly, I saw Twitter eat itself. I saw it go from a conversation at first about how there wasn’t enough representation maybe about darker skinned blacks or it wasn’t real because they have too much money or this is just ‘black-ish’ re-done, but then I started seeing that conversation imploding in itself and self-correcting some aspects,” Barris explains. “It was a much more intimate conversation that I was having than I have ever had. I really enjoy that because I think it’s important to art”