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The creative freedom of Kenya Barris

As ‘black-ish’ enters its third season, creator Kenya Barris looks back — and forward

Kenya Barris is the creator and showrunner of ABC’s hit black-ish, which had its most talked about moment last season in the April episode Hope, which tapped into police brutality and the killing of unarmed black men. There were few laughs on Barris’ situational comedy that night. In this new season, and likely with the new projects he creates, the former high school ball player and Clark-Atlanta University grad (even as he deals with some issues), is going to further push the lines of comedy and dramedy.

“As a comedy writer, you never want to do a ‘very special’ episode. At the same time, we were talking about something that people could have been offended by, or it could’ve felt like we were editorializing in a way that didn’t … gain entry points for the audience as a normal episode would. I really felt like — it wasn’t necessarily the ‘police brutality issue episode.’ We really were talking about just having conversations with your kids, and that was a conservation we felt people should be having … Everything just really came together in a really good way.

I just don’t want it to cloud the narrative: We have 50 episodes in; [diversity] should not still be the center of what I’m talking about.

“It is a very, very, real place for us to be able to … not be derivative … and have a network and studio support us the way they do. We feel like we’re in a special place. I feel like … them giving us the freedom they gave us with our show, and the response to it, opened up some doors.

“They were doors that should have already been open, because we live in a world that is very much not always mirrored by what we’re seeing in the media. I am all for diversity. Of course I am completely for it. I just don’t want it to cloud the narrative: We have 50 episodes in. [Diversity] should not still be the center of what I’m talking about. It’s a conversation that we need to keep having until we don’t have to have it anymore. Absolutely. I want to be clear and careful, but I did not want the good work that the writers and producers and actors had put in to be overshadowed by the fact that they weren’t what the mainstream was used to seeing.

“That was always my fear with #OscarsSoBlack — I think we do need to have a diverse presence in those places, but what I’m afraid of is I don’t want the ‘black slot’ or the ‘diverse slot.’ Because then that slot becomes something that people feel like, ‘Oh, well, they have to have one’ … as if it’s left in because it was something given to us — not because we deserve it.”

Kelley L. Carter is a senior entertainment reporter and the host of Another Act at Andscape. She can act out every episode of the U.S. version of The Office, she can and will sing the Michigan State University fight song on command and she is very much immune to Hollywood hotness.