Kenya Barris has sounded off against critiqued him on a number of things, including colorism and the ever-expanding “-ish” universe.
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In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter about his major $100 million break from Netflix, Barris talked about his upcoming family comedy project with Eva Longoria. The project was reported as being called brown-ish due to ABC entertainment head Craig Erwich, leading to fans from both Black and Latinx audiences decrying the idea as offensive to non-white Latinx people and darker-skinned Black people. Barris said one of his daughters called him in tears over the accusations.
“It was never going to be called brown-ish, but even if it was, why is it that we turn on ourselves?” he said. “It immediately becomes, ‘Oh, he’s doing another family comedy.’ It’s like, yeah, I’m going to do 20 family comedies–no one questioned Norman Lear.”
He said his daughter wanted him to speak out against angry fans. “She was like, ‘Dad, they’re trashing you, they’re making these ‘ish’ jokes, you have to say something,” he said. “And I was like, ‘Kaleigh, when they stop making ‘ish’ jokes is when we’re in trouble.”
It is true that his comedies are based on his family, including his relationship with his former wife who is biracial. But viewers have been frustrated by just how many of his projects focus on lighter-skinned Black Americans, making it feel like there is an obsession behind his focus. In other words, the controversy surrounding his shows has never been about them being family comedies.
Interestingly enough, his comments about why he believes people are upset with him don’t fully address viewers’ complaints about the racial optics of his shows. Even worse, his statement in the interview of wanting to appeal to “thought leaders” like Malcolm Gladwell might sound even more like he’s dismissing the concerns people have about his work. Indeed, his new comments are probably going to rile up his critics once again.