W. Kamau Bell interview: ‘We Need to Talk About Cosby’ director
W. Kamau Bell first knew there was something suspicious about Bill Cosby after his infamous Pound Cake Speech to the NAACP. “I was like, this is not America’s dad. This is not the guy who wants all of us to succeed and wants to reach out to us. He’s pushing some Black people away in that moment,” the director of “We Need to Talk About Cosby” tells Gold Derby during our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video interview above). This was further highlighted for him when he saw Cosby do stand-up soon after. “I was really blown away by the fact that none of the NAACP Cosby was in the Cosby I saw do stand-up. He really separated these two personas.”
“We Need to Talk About Cosby,” which is available to stream through Showtime, is a comprehensive telling of Cosby’s career while also telling the stories of several of the women alleging that he drugged and sexually assaulted. It shows how he went from a comic and TV star in the 1960s to a staple of educational TV in the ‘70s and then becoming “America’s Dad” in the 1980s with “The Cosby Show.” With each of these iterations of his career, we see how he was able to carry on with this behavior for decades.
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When it came to how to let the survivors tell their stories, Bell took inspiration from dream hampton’s docuseries, “Surviving R. Kelly.” “If you’re going to talk to survivors, let them talk. Don’t just use archival soundbites. Don’t reduce them to just their stories. Let them be who they are so the audience can have a relationship, can actually sort of get to know them and not just see them as survivors of sexual assault.” He was also keenly aware of how the issues that are addressed in the series are also reflections of our country as a whole. “If we’re going to talk about racism, we got to talk about America and if we’re going to talk about not believing survivors of sexual assault, that’s another America issue. That’s not just a Hollywood issue or a Bill Cosby issue.”
Bell already has experience with the Emmy Awards. His CNN series “United Shades of America” won the Emmy for Best Unstructured Reality Program three years in a row (2017-19). To say that first win was a surprise is an understatement. “I’m not a dude who grew up winning things. I wasn’t even trying to compete for things, so I wasn’t going to win anything. I was never a competitive person in that way.” When LL Cool J was presenting his category, he couldn’t even look at the stage but remembers hearing LL chuckle as he said, “And the Emmy goes to.” “I was like, why is he laughing? And he goes, ‘United Shades,’ and that’s all I heard and I was just like, ‘WHAA!’ I couldn’t process it. How am I winning a trophy?”