If you didn’t already know, a new series aired on ABC this season called black-ish. I had the opportunity to interview the show’s creator, one of the writers, and some of the cast (and their parents) while on the Disney trip in L.A. Check out these insightful (and pretty funny) black-ish interviews!
black-ish Interviews: Kenya Barris, Series Creator
Here are some thoughts from the creator, Kenya Barris, during our group’s roundtable interview.
What is “black-ish”?
I think from our character’s point of view, the world is a lot more homogenized for his kids than it ever was. I have five kids too. I looked at my kids and the way I grew up and my definition of what being black was is not what my kids were living. And they were a bit black-ish, a little lesser of a version than what it was for me growing up. But at the same time, all of their friends, who interestingly enough, primarily are not black, were a little bit more of what I thought black was growing up. It was like an additive version of that. I don’t think there’s a black or white kid left in America. They’re all just sort of a blaze of everything else – Asian, Latino. I think we are kind of blended into this sort of homogenized layer of what America is. As a father, he’s dealing with that. And his father dealt with something different. It’s kind of talking about where we are today.
What real life references are there in the series?
It’s my life, it’s Laurence’s life, it’s Anthony’s life. I even talked to some of the kids, it’s their mom and their dad. It’s an amalgamation of all of our lives. My kids often because it’s essentially based on my family. My son thinks he’s Jack and at the end of the spanking episode when he didn’t get it he was like, ”Hah, that was a close one.” I think it’s fun for them. I know it’s fun for me. It’s an amazing blessing in America to sit up see something that kind of came from our life like my wife’s name is actually Rainbow and things like that. I think it’s fun for them. I also think it’s a little bit… I have a 12-year-old daughter and she’s like, “Why am I not in this thing. If I am, am I a boy to you?” It’s interesting but at the same time causes a bit of conversation I think.
Is this a “black” show?
I, first of all, don’t see it as a black show. I see it as a show. I don’t think people look at Modern Family and look at it as a white show. I think it’s a show that happens around predominantly black cast members. I think that’s something that I want to make sure people take from this is that that’s the world we’re living in. We’re just families. Some families have black people, some families have asian. With that being said, it was not hard for me. I didn’t want to do a show that was just about a family that just happened to be black but about a family that was absolutely black. And coming from my wife being mixed and my mom being half Dominican, my own personal life, it’s a lot of different things. For me that’s part of what makes this a dope country. That’s more the version of how I see.
black-ish Interviews: Lindsey Shockley, Writer
One of the show’s writers, Lindsey Shockley, gave us a quick introduction before screening the episode that’s actually airing tonight, “The Gift of Hunger.” It was interesting that there are about 11 writers and it’s split about 50/50 in ethnicity (black vs non-black) and gender.
Can you tell us about the show?
I’m in the middle of writing episode 14, that’s as far as we’ve gotten. And we got picked up for another 11, which is awesome. So we’re going to go all the way through, almost through summer to match with Modern Family because Modern Family goes all the way to almost when school gets out. We’ll be paired with them throughout 2015.
What about the episode about spanking?
So many of us in the writers room were spanked as kids but so few parents in the room spank now. There’s that disconnect of “we grew up one way” and now. He whips that belt out. It’s what you grow up with versus what you do once you’re a parent. I’m so glad that connected. The threat of next time. It’s interesting how just him saying, “I’m disappointed in you” was enough of a punishment for Jack and you could see it in his eyes that, “Aw, I disappointed my dad!” that that was just as harsh as a spanking.
What about the content?
One of the things that he (Kenya) feels very strongly about that every week, we go around the writers room and everyone tells real personal stories about growing up, we have a lot of parents on staff and they’ll talk about parenting dilemmas, even husband and wife dilemmas, he wants everything to come from a really true problem and not just some made up fictional story.
How do you feel now that a few episodes have aired?
We feel really blessed. Overall it seems like the feedback we’re getting is really positive and people are really excited about the show. We feel like it’s giving us the confidence to just tell these true parenting stories that we really want to tell and then find these fun, fantastical ways to tell them.
black-ish Interviews: Junior Cast
In black-ish, the star have four children – two teens and a set of younger twins. We so enjoyed interviewing the youngest of the cast featured on the show. They were bright, well-spoken, friendly, and just a great group of kids. That’s why we were especially tickled when they recognized us at the Big Hero 6 premiere the following day.
The actors we interviewed were:
- Yara Shahidi, teen daughter Zoey Johnson
- Marcus Scribner, teen son Andre Johnson, Jr.
- Miles Brown, twin Jack Johnson
- Marsai Martin, twin Diane Johnson (Note: You’ll see a lot of quotes from her because she was hilarious!)
What is it like being on set with amazing actors?
Yara: It’s absolutely hilarious on set, of course, and being able to work with such amazing comedic veterans is amazing and I feel that I’m learning so much from being on set. It doesn’t even feel like work and that’s the weird part. I get up in the morning and say, “What I have work today?” Then come to set, having a dandy, fun time. It just feels like another enjoyable experience.
Marcus: Working on set with all the veteran actors, as Yara said, is and just an amazing experience. It’s awesome everyday to come to work and learn something new from them. Let’s be honest, they are all comedic geniuses. It’s pretty awesome.
Marsai: They feel like our mentors at acting now because every day. It doesn’t feel like work because we feel like a real family. We bond as a family. Together we are unstoppable.
How close are you to your characters?
Yara: I’m not close character-wise to Zoey because I’m the kind of person that spends all my time reading and such. I took two history classes in Oxford and I have to be reminded, “Yara, people might want to know that black-ish in on tonight. You might want to post something.” That’s the kind of person I am and I usually forget my phone. I like fashion but I’m not into fashion. Otherwise, I’m pretty different.
Miles: Same as him (Marcus). I’m pretty close to my character as I am in real life. Like the basketball, the sports I’m also into those things. And the acting. I’m into what happens in my character’s life too.
Marsai: My character, Diane. To me, I’m pretty social media-kind. I’m pretty quirky. I don’t have siblings. You all have siblings. So this is my first experience with that. So it’s kind of new to me. I like the computer. I’m kind of sporty. I play gymnastics and I did cheerleading for a year and a half. That’s just me.
What has been the reaction from friends and family?
Marcus: I’d have to say the same thing. My family is extremely supportive of the show. My grandmother is in sales and every time she would make a sale she would start off like, “Oh, here I have this nice necklace. But guess what?! My grandson is in a new tv show, black-ish!” It was pretty cool watching her make sales like that.
Marsai: My family is amazing! In the pilot, my grandparents called me and are like, “Okay, we have it on the DVR, we have it on Hulu, and all the tv shows on in our house are on black-ish.” And Grandpa’s like, “Everybody in our family better watch black-ish. If they’re not, I’ll sock’em.” Okay, I know Grandfather. They’re all proud of me. It’s just amazing how we became so big.
They also have a crazy bond that’s clear to see. Though there were four chairs, the little ones decided to share one.
What turned out to be quite a surprise was our Q & A with the kids’ parents. We found out that the four sets of parents work together to keep the kids emotionally grounded and watch out or them. All the kids are enrolled in school so it’s a constant back and forth between home, school, and the set. The kids still have to do all their chores at home and each gets to come home to family with both the mother and father to nurture it.
The feeling on set is special as everyone is like one big family. Yara and Marcus are alike in so many ways regarding their high intelligence, ability to concentrate, and being fairly easy to raise. Both Miles and Marsai have spunky personalities but they get along so well that they even play outside of work. As for the parents, they love that there’s an “open door” policy with the staff. They full access to the writers, department head, etc. so they and their children can feel comfortable with the content, costumes, and situations. While some episode require some extra conversations at home, it seems everyone involved takes pride in the show they’ve helped create.
black-ish – WEDNESDAYS 9:30|8:30c
If you haven’t seen black-ish yet, you should. Families of all sizes, makeups, and ethnicities will be able to relate to the stories being told. It airs Wednesdays at 8:30pm on ABC. Sit tight as photos from our set visit are coming up!
- https://twitter.com/black_ishABC (#blackishABC)
I was invited on an all-expense paid media trip as a guest of Disney and ABC in honor of the Big Hero 6 movie and mentioned sitcom series. All opinions are my own.