Black-ish con­tin­ues to chal­lenge Amer­i­cans

Fourth sea­son con­fronts lack of black hol­i­days, mythol­ogy of Colum­bus dis­cov­er­ing Amer­ica

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - GREG BRAXTON Los An­ge­les Times

— ABC’s “Black-ish,” the ac­claimed fam­ily com­edy about an up­per-mid­dle class African-Amer­i­can fam­ily liv­ing in a pre­dom­i­nantly white neigh­bour­hood, has taken on more than its share of provoca­tive top­ics, in­clud­ing a de­bate over the “N-word,” po­lice bru­tal­ity and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

The fourth sea­son pre­mière, which will air Tues­day, Oct. 3, at 9 p.m. — a new day and time for the se­ries — con­tin­ues in that edgy di­rec­tion, us­ing mu­sic to take a shot at the hol­i­day cel­e­brat­ing Christo­pher Colum­bus while also salut­ing June­teenth, the June 19 cel­e­bra­tion com­mem­o­rat­ing the end of slav­ery in the United States.

Kenya Bar­ris, the cre­ator of “Black-ish,” said the episode was largely in­flu­enced by his af­fec­tion for the block­buster hip-hop mu­si­cal “Hamil­ton” about one of Amer­ica’s found­ing fa­thers.

“I’ve seen ‘Hamil­ton’ a ton of times,” Bar­ris said in an in­ter­view. “The thing that got me about it is the idea of a his­tor­i­cally con­tex­tual piece that speaks to what an Amer­i­can story is. That’s what ‘Black-ish’ is. It’s a con­tem­po­rary piece that speaks to the tex­ture of what Amer­ica is.”

In the episode, the John­son fam­ily at­tend a school play fea­tur­ing their young twins Jack and Di­ane (Miles Brown and Mar­sai Martin) that cel­e­brates Colum­bus Day. Dre (An­thony An­der­son) is dis­mayed over the in­ac­cu­ra­cies re­gard­ing the his­tor­i­cal con­text of the hol­i­day. Feel­ing there are not enough black hol­i­days, Dre en­lists singer Aloe Blacc (guest star­ring as him­self ) at his job as an ad ex­ec­u­tive to help him cre­ate a catchy song to raise aware­ness for a hol­i­day worth cel­e­brat­ing: June­teenth.

Bar­ris said the episode was in­spired by a con­ver­sa­tion he had with his teenage son over the sum­mer.

“He was talk­ing to me about Colum­bus and said, ‘Dad, you know Colum­bus never ac­tu­ally set foot in North Amer­ica?’” said Bar­ris. “I looked at him and said, ‘I think you’re mis­taken, son.’ I thought he had just read the books wrong. But I started re­search­ing it, and I was blown away. Not only did Colum­bus not step foot in North Amer­ica, he wasn’t the per­son who dis­cov­ered the world wasn’t flat. His name wasn’t even re­ally Christo­pher Colum­bus.”

He added, “All these things we had been told in a false way. Why is it that we have a hol­i­day for this guy? I started think­ing about June­teenth, be­ing an Amer­i­can and ac­knowl­edg­ing that slav­ery hap­pened. There’s never been one per­son pros­e­cuted for slav­ery in the his­tory of the coun­try. So we never got a re­set but­ton. It was like, ‘OK, it’s over.’ So mo­rally, we un­der­stand slav­ery was wrong as a coun­try, but there was no crim­i­nal­ity put to it.”

Putting a mu­si­cal spin on the June­teenth cel­e­bra­tion is in keep­ing with the “Black-ish” tra­di­tion of mak­ing a con­tro­ver­sial is­sue ac­ces­si­ble to a main­stream au­di­ence. Bar­ris has al­ways been fo­cused on hav­ing the show be a bridge to un­der­stand­ing. “The idea of hon­our­ing the end of slav­ery gives us some­thing that brings us to­gether as a coun­try,” he said.

RON TOM, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Black-ish has not been afraid of con­fronting Amer­i­can mis­con­cep­tions and fail­ings.

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