Raised in Inglewood in Los Angeles, CA, screenwriter Kenya Barris grew up knowing what it was like to be black. But years later, married to a doctor and the father to five children, his expectations for what it meant and how he’d be a father were disrupted when his daughter described a fellow classmate one night over dinner (a vignette from the pilot of his hit show Black-ish). Now, he’s unleashing those situations on the ABC audience, premiering after Modern Family this week.
“I had a version of black growing up, what that looked like,” Barris told me over the phone. “But I looked around at my kids and realized that they were black-ish, and that my friends were experiencing the same thing with their kids. They were black-ish, Jewish-ish, etc., just the homogeny of the youth culture.”
I asked him what he was doing to preserve culture, to keep a genuine set of beliefs with his children. “It’s days-by-day, kid by kid,” Barris says. “You have to know what you believe in. Were all trying to give our kids more than we had. But what do they lose out on then, and how does it affect them?”
I asked the father-writer-comic how he arrived at the dynamic between Andre (Anthony Anderson) and Pops (Lawrence Fishburne). Ultimately, Barris told me the show is about “generational conflict. We can never quite impress our parents the way we want to, because we’re not doing it the way they did it. And we’re trying to protect our kids but they don’t hunk we’re doing it right, and we don’t know how that will work out.”
Barris told me that he’s always been a fan of Fishburne’s but he was a huge fan of 30 Rock, and how Tina Fey used Alec Baldwin, who no one expected to be funny. Having seen how a grandparent at home impacted the family dynamic, he writes Pops as a “de escalation” of Andre, who also curbs what the kids learn from Pops.
I asked Barris about the way he has worked masculinity in the pilot, and how he’s raising boys [two out of his five children are boys]. “I’m trying to lead by example. We’re harder on our sons, not in a malicious way, but to raise strong men with kind hands. I want them to be immersed in love, and I think that’s displayed in Andre.”
Andre is just trying “day by day. He’s flawed and making mistakes,” says Barris. But in the end, it’s all about love that Baris has for his kids, and his desire to be everything a father should.