Season 5 of Raven’s Home is getting real about issues that impact Black and brown communities. The season started off with Raven (Raven-Symoné) and Booker moving back to San Francisco to help take care of Raven’s dad after he experiences a mild heart attack. As Raven finds herself parenting her parent, raising her young cousin, and settling into life in her old hometown, a growing Booker transitions into life in a new town. Viewers see Booker in an unfortunate encounter until ever before. Titled “Stylin’ & Profilin,” episode 21 deals with racial profiling. According to a logline on the timely episode, Booker gets Raven’s permission to drive his car to a school event, and things go well until he has an eye-opening encounter with a police officer.
Ahead of the Oct. 21 episode premiere on Disney Channel, Shadow and Act spoke with Raven-Symoné and Brown about why it was the perfect time to address the issue at the center of the episode. They also dish on the show hitting its 100th episode, and how Raven made history twice playing the iconic character.
S&A: Whose idea was it to tackle this subject at this stage of the show, and why was it important for you guys to explore it?
RS: I believe that episode of the show, Jed, Anthony, and Scott were really trying to find a topic that touched on the pulse of what’s going on in America right now. And Disney approved. So Anthony, Robin, Jed, and Scott really spearheaded this. The one thing about sitcoms is that it is reflecting what’s happening in society, and what better way to do it than with a spoonful of sugar? And then, as the cast found out, we all agreed. It was a nice combination of a little bit of everybody.
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S&A: You mentioned you had to get Disney's approval. I don't believe I've ever seen anything like this tackled on a Disney program and even back in my day, I don't recall this being a thing. So what did it mean for you guys in order for them to say, ‘Yeah, go ahead.’
IRB: I believe that That’s So Raven / Raven’s Home brand – we’ve always tapped our feet into real-world issues and situations. On That’s So Raven, they had an episode where Raven and Chelsea applied for the same job, and then Chelsea ended up getting it because the manager didn’t necessarily like Black people and things like that. So we’ve always dealt with racism. But I think this episode it’s a little more raw. The emotions are, I think, a lot, a lot scarier. This situation compared to other things that we’ve explored, such as vaping and other things, so this one is it’s a little more intense. You really feel it.
It needs to be talked about. And like I said, I feel like our show is perfect for that because just our audience and how far we’ve come, you’ve seen Booker grow up and deal with certain things, and now you’re going to see him go through this, which is a real-world situation. So I’m just happy that Disney gave us the OK. Raven directed it. She did a fantastic job. And it’s a fantastic episode.
S&A: Now, Raven, you mentioned earlier about sitcoms in the way that they're formatted, and obviously, sitcoms typically have the idea of art imitating life. Because you directed it, how did you go about trying to make this episode an educational experience for viewers, but also handling the matter with care and hopefully not being traumatized while filming it?
RS: It’s a delicate balance, right? There’s definitely S&P involved. We got specialists involved in dealing with kids’ psychology. Disney was involved, of course. There are a lot of things I want to say to your question. The first thing, if you look in history with the sitcom [genre], even the funniest shows touched on heavy topics. All In the Family in the way of being sexually harassed. Bill Cosby touched on The Cosby Show, he touched on really significant topics as well. Seinfeld – everybody that you have your moment. And I think that’s because we’re in the homes of our viewers on an everyday basis. So it’s important for them to see that they’re like what you say.
So with our show, I just remember the process of going back and forth with the different iterations of the scripts and making sure that we made the subject – we gave respect to the subject and didn’t water it down, but also made it kid-friendly so that we didn’t traumatize people. And one of the things that we were really excited about is when Booker first got pulled over, he recites the things that his mother told him to do during that situation.
I relate to that. I remember my mom drilling my brother when he first got his license on the things that he had to be careful of. He’s tall, he’s Black. He wears a hoodie and jeans and maybe a jersey or a skully. And it’s like, ‘Take your hat off. Put your hands on the wheel. Yes, sir. Yes, ma’am. Respectful. And don’t question anything.’ Because the color of your skin does not allow that at this time. Sadly, that’s the truth. It’s too many words. And so we did that for Booker as well. Even the conversation between Victor and the cop, we had to be careful because Victor is an established pillar within the community. And we went back and forth about how does the grandfather get him out of the situation? In some situations in our country, it does not end well for the person who helps and the person who got pulled over. How do we tackle that? And I give props to our writers, our producers, our channel, and the people that they got involved with to really make sure that the topic was understood. Respected but tolerable. But as the director of the show, I planned it out enough to where we didn’t have to rehearse that much because I did not like seeing Issac Ryan Brown, even though was playing a character, go through that scenario because of the fact how long of I’ve known him.
I’ve known this person for seven years now. This isn’t seven years, starting at 18 years old. This is like seven years old, from single digits to a teenager. And that’s deeper in the heart. People have to go through this every day. And it’s disgraceful. And hopefully, with this episode, they see that we know what they’re going through.
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S&A: The last time we spoke, you guys mentioned that you love that it's a family show and that the show is a conversation starter. Obviously, this is going to start a completely different conversation than most episodes have in the past. And because you guys have such a diverse audience, how do you feel the conversation will look across the spectrum of viewers? What are you what is the hope for that?
IRB: The hope is to change the way we react to these situations in the way we approach these situations. So in the episode, without giving away too much, I will say my character shows a lot of rage. Immediately when it’s when this happening is polarizing, it’s fear, right? You’re like, ‘Oh, my God. Like, I’m kind of helpless in this situation.’ But then, after it all happens, you’re like, ‘I shouldn’t have to feel like that with an authority figure. These are the people that are supposed to protect us. I shouldn’t have to feel like this.’ So he gets very angry. But then toward the end, Rondall kind of calms me down. He’s like, ‘OK, like, there’s a certain way we deal with these things.’ And then at the end, the rage is kind of like, ‘I just want to as long as you’re OK, that’s the most important part. You made it back’. So hopefully, it changes the way we approach these situations, and how we react. Everyone go watch the episode. I don’t want to give away what we obviously what we talk about because it’s very deep. They’ve watched these characters for five seasons, almost five or six years of their lives. So you feel like it’s happening to someone you watched every week, and you’re like, ‘Wow. I don’t want anyone I love to feel like that.’ So it’s great.
RS: I would also add to what he said that when you have a family that does not experience that type of discrimination, but you feel connected to this character, you start a conversation within your family dynamic to hopefully stand up for your friend, to hopefully feel empathy for a community that you weren’t necessarily understanding of their struggles. I think that’s very important because hatred starts in the home. You teach that. We aren’t born hating things. We are just like as you grow up. So I think it’s really important to showcase all kinds of lives in a positive way.
There’s no pointed agenda. It’s just like, This is America. This is what we go through right now. And there are all different types of lives, and this is what happens to some lives. And you should see what we have to go through if you’re not a part of that community. That’s why I love the Walt Disney Company. There are so many different communities expressed within this. Within this company. You have Chinese-born Americans on Disney, You have shows like The Proud Family. You have The Doogie Howser remake with their show. There are so many different cultures being represented because if you see it, it’s reality.
S&A: You said that art imitates life. And I think sometimes life imitates art. So what other deep subject matters are you hoping to explore moving forward on the show?
IRB: I don’t know if it’s earlier or later in the season, but we actually we touched on Raven’s assistant being the first ever, openly transgender character on a Disney Channel show. And that’s a huge thing. I don’t know if anybody knows that’s a big thing. So I was very excited to touch on that.
RS: Same here. I like that we’re open to talking about stuff that’s happening within the community as long as it’s tasteful, respectful and palatable.
S&A: Another big thing that is happening in this season is that you guys have reached 100 episodes. So congratulations on that. How major is it for you guys with the reboot to get so far? Because the original series, that's already been also reached, 100 episodes. So 200 episodes in total playing this character.
IRB: That was Raven’s whole goal. When I first met her, let me tell you, it wasn’t all the new people. They all got it all easy. And Raven wasn’t angry. She would never make anybody stay late in practice. Nothing like that. When I first got there, it was very much, ‘We’re getting to 100 episodes.’ So the bar was never anything less than that. It’s a great feeling. It’s a blessing to be able to do that on a Disney Channel show for so long.
RS: I can’t I can’t lie. Issac, I like titles. I like being able to say that I’m the first Black female to have a show named after her that has 200 episodes like that. It feels awesome. And thanks to you for honoring and respecting the visions. It’s a huge part of the brand, and it’s delicate. It doesn’t seem like a lot, probably to the layperson, but for me, it means a lot because that is the glue that holds these stories together in a sense. And thank you to the Disney Channel and to all of the actors and writers and crew that did put up with my crazy antics at the beginning that I was like, ‘I just want 100 episodes. I got titles to win over here.’