Kenya Barris in "#blackAF". Picture: Netflix
Kenya Barris in "#blackAF". Picture: Netflix

'#blackAF' misses nuances of the black experience

By Jamal Grootboom Time of article published Apr 18, 2020

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"Black-ish" creator Kenya Barris stars in the Netflix original comedy series "#blackAF" based on a fictionalised version of his life. 

And while it aims to bring blackness to the forefront, the show is not funny and very hamfisted with its message. 

The basic premise revolves around Barris’ family and is framed through his daughter Drea Barris, played by Iman Benson, who is filming a documentary of their family for her university admission. 

In doing so, the framing device gives the show a mockumentary feel and in many ways places the viewer in the show instead of only being a third party observer. 

While the overall premise of the show is interesting the writing and tone are all over the place. "#blackAF" is supposed to be a comedy but all the jokes feel as if a Generation Xer or Boomer looked at Black Twitter and tried to write about the topics but without context or the right tone. 

The show also does this strange thing where it will address different issues within the American black community in the middle of a scene. Making it feel very out of place and more like a PSA shoved into a moment. 

Barris’ acting is also questionable at best, and a lot of the times he’ll be the one that seems out of place in the show. 

The show attempts to highlight black people face issues such as the white gaze and the adultification of black girls. However, it’s handled so poorly that as a viewer it comes across as preachy and ill-placed. 

Critics of Barris’ work many times have highlighted the lack of dark-skinned black people in his shows, specifically women. I still remember when the first promo trailer and images for "Grown-ish" started making its way across the internet and someone called it “Light-ish” since the entire main cast was somewhere between high yellow and caramel.

Rashida Jones alongside Kenya Barris in "#blackAF". Picture: Netflix

You would think a show called “black as f**k” would feature a variety of skin tones and hair textures. 

However, Barris' whole family has at the most 3B hair texture with the darkest castmate sitting at a smooth deep caramel at most.  

I’m still confused as to why black male show creators seem to have some sort of vendetta with casting dark-skinned black women in their projects. And out of Barris’ three “ish” shows the only two main dark-skinned characters are Diane Johnson (Marsai Martin) in "Black-ish" and Alicia Johnson (Tika Sumpter) in "Mix-ish". 

While watching the show it's clear it is trying to capture the same audience that "Dear White People" and "Insecure" have garnered but it misses a key aspect that both those shows have - that the idea of blackness isn’t what drives the plot or story. With the aforementioned shows, we are following these characters' lives who happen to be black and aren’t afraid of their blackness in a non-traumatic way. 

"#blackAF" from the beginning wants you to know it’s here for the culture, but it does so in such a way that it misses every nuance within the black experience.

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