ABC’s “Black-ish,” is one of few television shows today that has aired over 100 episodes, touching audiences around the world and discussing an array of topics ranging from racism, colorism, politics and police brutality through the narrative of a black upper middle class family.
Recently, the series aired an episode which tackled feminism and reunited the cast of Girlfriends, the series which launched Black-ish star Tracee Ellis Ross into television stardom when it premiered in 2000. Ross along with fellow Black-ish co-stars Anthony Anderson, Miles Brown, Marsai Martin, Marcus Scribner, Laurence Fishburne and series executive producer Courtney Lilly stopped by the Paley Center For Media in New York City on Sunday (October 13th) as part of Paley Fest to screen an upcoming episode of the series as well as discuss various topics related to the current six seasons as well as the show’s history and impact with moderator Charlemagne tha God.
When asked how the producers come up with the topics to tackle this current season Lilly told The Knockturnal, “We do a little bit of a mini boot camp at the start of the season where we get the more experienced writers together and we kind of sit there and we decide what are we interested in, what are we talking about. For this year when we got together for a couple of weeks, we were able to sit there and talk about the feminist episode which we saw last week, that was something that came up, really finding a place for Mile’s character Jack to go because we felt like we’ve been spending a lot of time with developing Diane really kind of allowing them to become teenagers. So when we go through that kind of period we’re able to talk about what we want to happen. So for us it’s just kind of like we know we’re dealing with pre-teens, they’re 13 on the show but they’re really young teenagers and they’re growing up into their own space. So for us I was like let’s focus in on that. And I think for Tracee and Anthony’s characters it’s like allowing them to continue to grow with their relationships with their older kids like Zoey and Junior or with Tracee and her friendships.”
With feminism being the most recent topic of discussion on the show, cast member Marsai Martin who plays Diane, one of the Johnson’s children on the show told us, “I learned so much, I feel like it’s such a big topic in where we are today. And just of course having the Girlfriends being all together it kind of reminded me of how far back that feminism empowerment of it all [went]. Also it’s actually amazing and especially the power of black woman and how far we’ve come is pretty spectacular.”
Marcus Scribner, who plays Andre Johnson Jr, said in regards to how his personal views are reflective of his character’s, “I really appreciated Junior’s opinion. I play a character on an animated television show his name is Bow on She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and he’s a huge advocate of male support for our female counterparts. I think that we should all be in a supportive role and really support people who are struggling. so I think I definitely agree with Jr.’s position but I think he may have handled it incorrectly by trying to force his views on another person. But yea he’s trying to look out for the good in what he believes in.”
As an audience we’ve followed the characters over the last five years and watched the Johnson children grow up before our eyes, from Zoey (played by Yara Shahadi) going off to college to the younger Johnson children finishing elementary school and are continuing to grow and develop. Speaking on the future of Diane’s growth, Marsai Martin said, “She’s a teenager now, so I know teenagers go through hormones and all different types of things. So her just trying to get through middle school to high school and just seeing how real life is pretty dope and I would like to see that.”
Not only are the children on the show growing but the parents as well, “How do you feel you should grow as an individual . We live day to day, we live moment to moment and that’s what growth is about, understanding and paying attention to what’s going on around you in life. I believe that’s what Andre Johnson is doing, he’s paying attention to what’s going on around him in life. So you can’t pinpoint where you want to grow. You grow how you’re supposed to grow. That’s what I’m a firm believer in,” Anderson said about his views on the growth of the Johnson patriarch.
Ross who won a Golden Globe for her role as Rainbow Johnson in the series, and is now an executive producer on a Black-ish spin-off series called Mixed-ish discussed working on both series at the same time, and whether her character’s growth on Black-ish is incorporated into Mixed-ish as well telling The Knockturnal, “The only thing is the time, it’s fascinating, it’s a lot to do in one body. But it’s been great. There’s amazing teams on both. I’m very seasoned on Black-ish so I know the rhythm and know how that goes. Doing the voice over is not like a everyday kind of thing, but it’s a new part of my schedule. But yeah there’s great writers on both.”
Post screening Ross stated when asked, what are some memorable interactions, she’s had with fans of the show, Ross said, “I often have mothers or fathers that come to me and say, ‘My 12 year old will not talk to me, but we watch Black-ish together every week. I get a half hour every week after the show goes off and we talk.’ It’s amazing. I think kids love the show and their parents make it a date to watch and then they have topics of conversation that was brought up through the episode that they can have conversations about it.”
Tracee also discussed what Tyler Perry opening his studios in Atlanta meant to her telling The Knockturnal, “Tyler is holding a space in our world that is incredibly important and he has done something that has never been done before and he ‘s reinventing and re-imaging the studio system through the lenses and through the eyes of blackness in a way that everybody has access to it but it’s through our narrative. The fact that studios got to be named for some of these extraordinary talents and forces of nature that have influenced and determined our culture is a spectacular thing that is needed and important.” Anderson added, “You know it’s interesting. I was there and Tyler’s thing his whole purpose of that was inspiration. He told us all I want you to see this and I want you to understand that if this doesn’t open your eyes to something bigger and if this doesn’t make you want to dream bigger then something is wrong with you. And we all left there realizing that no matter how big we thought our dreams were we weren’t dreaming big enough, our dreams weren’t scaring us and they should frighten us. And seeing what Tyler was able to accomplish with his studio in Atlanta was an amazing thing,” when asked what the studio opening means to her as a black actor.
While over the last few episodes of this season, four of five of the Johnson kids are shown, the family’s newest edition baby Devante has been noticeably absent. Where’s Devante?, we asked producer Courtney Lilly which he told us, “Devante’s gonna be around, Devante’s around. Here’s the thing about shooting with kids, it’s very very hard. You know they’re babies they got stuff that’s going on. But Devante we’re gonna see. He’s around, we have the Christmas episode we’re gonna be shooting up next he’s gonna be playing a big part in that, Halloween he’s all over Halloween you’re gonna love him in Halloween. We love Devante and we love the kids who play him August and Berlin.”
Black-ish airs on Tuesdays on ABC.