WASHINGTON – “We just want to be seen,” said Kenya Barris, creator of “Black-ish,” wiping away tears Saturday during the series’ finale event at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
And ABC’s “Black-ish” did just that. In the show’s eight years of tackling heavy social topics such as police brutality and microaggressions, bringing Juneteenth to the mainstream, and showing millions of viewers that Black folks are not a monolith, Barris’ sitcom allowed space for the Black community to see themselves represented authentically.
But alas, “all good things must come to an end,” star Anthony Anderson told USA TODAY. The series finale airs April 19 (9 p.m. EDT/PDT), but not without leaving a lasting legacy in television history.
“Black-ish” was a significant show for Black audiences, but it was also important to the cast and creators, said Anderson, who plays Dre, the Johnson family patriarch.
“What you saw on that screen was what I went through with my children, and what Kenya went through with his children, and our wives,” said Anderson, noting the show was born out of a conversation he had with Barris “about the trappings of our success being the only African American families living in our respective neighborhoods.”
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One of those “trappings” involved a difficult conversation he had with his son Nathan Anderson, who told his father he didn’t “feel Black.”
“I had to have a conversation with my 12-year-old son about his Blackness and that this is his Black experience. Living in the suburbs, living somewhat a life of privilege. Because he looked at how my family still lived in Compton and Watts, he looked at what young Black men were going through around the world, and that wasn’t his reality. And I was like ‘No, this is your experience,’ ” Anderson recalled.
“Black-ish,” which focused on an upper-middle class Black family’s life journey, showed us through biracial Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), quirky and loving Junior (Marcus Scribner) and confident but not sassy Diane (Marsai Martin) that there are a million ways and no one way to be Black.
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“You were watching a Black family just live and be. It just felt so real. It wasn’t only a sitcom, we would be hitting topics that not even dramas talk about,” Martin said.
For Ross, this wasn’t the first time to star in an influential sitcom centered on the Black experience. The Emmy-nominated, NAACP Image Award-winning actress was part of the iconic sitcom “Girlfriends” for eight years, though Barris said someone at the network asked him where he “discovered” the actress, who is Diana Ross’ daughter.
“I ushered in two eras and I still look pretty cute,” Ross joked when asked what it felt like being a part of two historic shows. “What I hope is that ‘Black-ish’ ushered in a time where we don’t go through eras. Our stories are a part of what is always told and the way we are always represented on television, with all different kinds of Black people. … We’re not just one character here, one character there, one story every 10 years, but that we’re a part of the mélange of TV.”
Not only has “Black-ish” created a safe space for difficult conversations about race and culture, it’s also opened doors behind the scenes, said Yara Shahidi, who plays the Johnson family’s eldest child.
” ‘Black-ish’ has incubated so much talent that have used this as an opportunity to spread their wings,” Shahidi said. “Directly or indirectly ‘Black-ish’ has also helped so many other shows that have been really impactful get on air.”
Just because “Black-ish” is coming to an end doesn’t mean it’s the end of Black stories.
“I hope that our show is an invitation and a promise to the industry of what is possible and continues to show the world that a Black family is an American family,” Ross said. “That we are here not just surviving, but thriving.”
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