This was a strange, misconceived, tone deaf episode of BLACK-ISH. The general premise was well-intentioned and important—Dre gets the opportunity to work on an ad campaign for a champagne company called Uvo featuring a popular rapper named Richard Youngsta. After Bow and Ruby point out that his first attempt trafficked in damaging stereotypes about black people, he realizes the importance of using his position in advertising to provide positive representation.
That’s all fine and good. But Richard Youngsta is played by Chris Brown. This episode is about the importance of positive messages in media. The presence of Chris Brown, a documented serial domestic abuser, in any episode of a show that prides itself on teaching lessons and championing social issues would be distracting and disappointing, but it felt especially shocking in this episode. In an episode about sending positive messages, what sort of message is ABC sending its viewers with this casting choice? That a man can beat a woman so badly she ends up hospitalized and still get to be on TV?
This episode featured Bow decrying the misogyny against black women inherent in Dre’s original idea, which featured Brown’s character dancing around and pouring champagne on things to improve them—catchphrase “pour some Uvo on it.” He pours champagne on his girlfriend, transforming her from a “loudmouthed black woman” to a “doting white woman”. It’s astounding that the show can speak out against this while hiring a man who has publicly committed acts of misogyny against black women.
One can’t even argue that Chris Brown has changed his behavior. He publicly apologized, but he didn’t change. Just last month, another ex-girlfriend came forward with charges that he pushed her down the stairs and punched her in the stomach. A judge granted her a restraining order against him. It’s outrageous and disappointing that apparently no one at ABC or on the show thought that giving such a man a very public platform might not be a good idea.
The strangest thing is that the part didn’t require the actor playing it to be a talented rapper or dancer. It could have been played anyone who looked the part. If the show wanted a cameo from a real rapper, there are countless less problematic choices. The choice to cast Chris Brown made the entire message of the episode feel hypocritical. It’s entirely possible that ABC regrets this severe misstep—I had no idea that Brown would be on the show until he appeared on the screen. There was no promotional push behind his appearance, he’s not in any of the publicity photos provided for the episode, and the show’s official Twitter hasn’t acknowledged it once, only retweeting viewers who don’t mention his name.
This lack of publicity around Brown’s role on the show makes it seem like the network isn’t supportive of this casting decision. But then why do it in the first place? Why risk alienating fans and sullying the show’s activist bona fides? It’s a baffling decision. It’s not enough to make me stop watching Black-ish, but it has tarnished the show’s integrity and brand. Black-ish can’t thoughtfully discuss social issues AND hire Chris Brown and expect viewers to take them seriously.
Season 3, Episode 19 (S03E19)
Black-ish airs Wednesdays at 930PM on ABC
Jennifer Trofa | Contributor