Black-ish's panel at the Television Critics Association fall previews got slightly tense Thursday when a reporter asked executive producer Kenya Barris if he'd considered the racial makeup of the people who watch the popular — and now Emmy-nominated — sitcom.
"I will be so happy when diversity is not a word," said Barris. "I have the best job in the world. We have the best actors, we're happy. I'm so tired of talking about diversity."
Tracee Ellis Ross, who plays Rainbow, the wife of ad exec Andre (Anthony Anderson) leaned in. "Let me ask you a question," she said to the reporter, asking if he asked that same question to casts that aren't majority-minority. He conceded that he doesn't, creating a slightly awkward — yet apparently needed — moment in the room.
The point Black-ish, and many other shows featuring people of color have been working to subtly (or even overtly) make, is that their stories are universal, and in our increasingly melting-pot society, multi-culti stories aren't "other" but wholly American and relevant to all.
"That question continues the conversation in a way that does not help," Ross said. Barris stressed that he wasn't beating up on the reporter (and later said the audience was about 23 percent black), but "we don't have to box everything in. Don't you see yourself reflected? Who watches the show — why does it matter? Why can't we just look at it and celebrate it for what it is?"
The family will expand next season beyond the already full house that includes grandparents Ruby (Jenifer Lewis); Pops (Laurence Fishburne) teenager Zoey (Yara Shahidi); Andre Jr. (Marcus Scribner) and kids Jack (Miles Brown) and Diane (Marsai Martin.) Rainbow is having a baby, and we'll see her brother Johan, played by Hamilton's Daveed Diggs, who originated the Tony-winning dual roles of Marquis de LaFayette and Thomas Jefferson in the Broadway phenomenon.
"He's so fit," Ellis said, over a din of her colleagues talking about his muscles and hair. "He's not worn a full shirt!" Anderson cracked. "And he comes to work with leave in conditioner in his hair."
This crew jokes a lot; it's clear they're having a good time together behind the scenes as much as they are on screen. "It's a happy set," said Jenifer Lewis, a veteran of stage and film. "This is the cheery on top of my career. I get those scripts and I laugh out loud, and nobody makes me laugh out loud but me. I'm honored to be on this show."
Indeed — though Black-ish takes on issues, including police brutality, class and more — it's just a simple fun family comedy at the end of the day. "We try to hit every angle we can without being schizophrenic," said Barris. "[Black people] are not monolithic. We have a lot of different points of view and we don't agree." This family has one thing in common though: "They love each other."