Kenya Barris, creator and executive producer of BLACK-ISH, repeatedly mentioned the influence of Norman Lear on the contemporary family sitcom, and it was more than apparent watching the castmembers on stage. Definitely a family on and off-screen, though maybe not in blood, the large ensemble gathered to discuss their experiences on the set of the critically acclaimed second season.
After a screening of this week’s upcoming episode depicting the effects of kids’ sports on parents, moderator Nichelle Turner (Entertainment Tonight) introduced the cast and executive producers to the stage: Kenya Barris, Jonathan Groff (executive producer), Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Yara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown, Marsai Martin, Jenifer Lewis, Peter Mackenzie, and Jeff Meacham.
Discussions began regarding the screened episode but quickly turned to the conversation-starting “Hope” that aired two weeks ago. Tracee Ellis Ross was personally moved as she portrayed a perspective she didn’t personally agree with in reality but knew that it was still an important side to show. Barris even cited, “Tracee is redefining what a television mom is.” It was the first of many times throughout the panel that Barris and the panel would bring the conversation back to the broader conversation of family and its depictions on television with the creator later adding “I think the whole show, in general, is a nod to Norman Lear.”
When asked how much of the final speech of “Hope” Anderson was acting and how much was the real him, Anderson responded, “I can only be as powerful as the words on the page, so I was just a vessel at that moment.”
Just like the series on display, the conversations were just as jovial and playful as they were serious with Ross and Anderson’s history of knowing-but-not-working together jokingly popping up throughout the event alongside their easy chemistry. When Lewis was asked how much she improvises, she declared “I never add a word.” This prompted Anderson and Ross to break into non-stop impersonations of her quips and mannerisms that she does in fact add that are never on the page.
It was later learned that Ross had disliked Anderson years prior, though for reasons undisclosed though Anderson admitted it was deserved. She said, “Anthony has a heart of gold but it’s covered in shards of glass.” Not helping Ross’s argument of course was a story of her punching Anderson on set. A moment that is on film though the two cannot seem to agree on whose fault it was.
Two moments brought members of the cast to their feet during the panel. The first was to applaud several writers who watched from the audience and all the castmembers were clearly greatly to have in their corner. The second came from the moderator, Turner. When Meacham realized he was in the Dolby Theater he asked, “Is this where they have the Oscars?” to which Turner quipped, “Yes, you two would be the only two here!” (referring to Meacham and Mackenzie, the only two white show members on stage). Turner quickly covered her face in semi-regret, but Anderson was thrilled as he jumped out of his seat to celebrate the moment as it was cheered on by the entire audience.
Towards the end of the hour, Barris had a final word of encouragement to aspiring writers, “Tell your story, it’s the one you know best.”
Clearly, that’s what worked for the cast and crew of Black-ish as they continue their stellar second season and were recently renewed for a third. We cannot wait to see what this group has in store next!
Emily is a writer and television obsessor. If desired, Emily will talk to you at potentially-annoying-length about topics such as why the CW is her favorite channel, the current amazing state of underground comedy, and how she avoids TV/films about zombies because most of them do not chew with their mouths closed.
Emily J | Staff Writer