Black-ish’s blunt, foul-mouthed but cooler twin

Rashida Jones and Kenya Barris play a married couple in Barris’ new series #blackAF. Picture: Supplied



Available on Netflix SA


The term ‘#blackAF’ has become an affirmation to oneself. Proclaiming that you’re “black as f**k” might also be seen as a veil of insecurity by some. But what the f**k would that have to do with anyone if exclaiming my blackness makes them uncomfortable? Very little, I’d hope.The politics of the phrase is rooted in reminding others, but mostly ourselves, how proud we are to be black, and to celebrate our blackness along with our accomplishments. You might be familiar with some of the recent work by TV writer and producer Kenya Barris, such as Black-ish and its two spin-off shows Grown-ish and Mixed-ish.

Barris’ new Netflix series #blackAF, while similarly themed, is quite different from any of his previous work during a 20-year career.Across social media, you might have seen posts about how much people don’t like #blackAF. I say it’s a case of “we assume all humour is everyone’s humour”. Think back to how some people were prickly in their response to Curb Your Enthusiasm. With its weird brilliance, taste masters who extend way beyond TV critics didn’t grasp it as widely as they could have. And that’s okay.

In this mockumentary comedy, Barris tackles a lot of the same issues as he does in his “ish” franchise, but this time – while also making his acting debut – he is more autobiographical, better diving into the discomforts he avoided on Black-ish.

But one would assume and hope that Barris is aware of his acting limitations, which, while not bad, come across as technical illustrations of expected depth, yet works within the annoyance of its execution and the behaviour of the character. 

Thankfully, Rashida Jones, who plays Barris’ wife Joya, eloquently and comedically covers his shortcomings.The narrative of #blackAF flows through a documentary that Barris’ daughter Drea (Iman Benson) is producing as part of her New York University application. Barris’ character, now wealthy thanks to his new Netflix deal, gives Drea a seven-person film crew, an editing suite and full access to tell the story of her parents and five siblings – or, as she puts it: “Apparently my dad hates his money and wants to make sure that he spends every bit of it before he dies.

”Black-ish fans would enjoy #blackAF, which can be best described as its blunt, embarrassing, foul-mouthed yet cooler twin. While some black critics are right to point out that the show is an altered version of conversations about race and authenticity that we’ve seen and heard before, the self-exposing therapy that Barris works through in each episode is the same steam that many successful black people blow off once they’ve reached the pinnacle of their personal and professional lives.

Barris, now donning his head-to-toe Gucci clothes and his identity crisis represented by the thick gold chain around his neck, struggles with feeling like a fraud and worries about whether he has passed this on to his privileged kids.

In Black-ish, loosely based on Barris’ life, his fears are shown through the character of Andre "Dre" Johnson – a glorified pushcart guy who profited from the hunger of the “black wave” in Hollywood – becoming the head of the “urban division” at an advertising agency.

But while #blackAF does seem far more truthful and reflective of his life now, one can’t help but wonder about how much of what Barris is portraying and saying is acting or if he’s just working through his issues.Above all, Barris’ latest project is a critical look at the value of, and requirement to, constantly  self-examine and self-critique.

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