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What’s Wrong with #Black AF

What’s Wrong with #Black AF

Jill Robi

One of the upsides to this quarantine is not only being able to catch up on shows you may have missed, but to also start entirely new ones.

A new sitcom to enter the Netflix family is from Kenya Barris, #BlackAF.

Known for his successful sitcoms Black-ish, Grown-ish and Mixed-ish, Barris has decided to delve directly into his own life with #BlackAF, a mirror into the writer/showrunner/creator’s personal life married to a white-passing biracial Black woman and their six children.

There has been much talk online in regards to his TV show wife, portrayed by Rashida Jones. Jones herself is biracial, for those who may not have known, and is the daughter of music producer legend Quincy Jones. There’s been much debate about Jones’ level of Blackness (for the most part, her roles have been ambiguous and/or white women, like the Italian Karen Filipelli on The Office). So much so that most discussion of the actual merit of the show has been omitted from articles and criticisms.

Though all episodes are available on Netflix, I have only watched the pilot. I went into this with much trepidation, as the mixed reviews have mostly been critical. And while the omission of Jones’ character, Joya Barris, being white-passing was both odd and troublesome, her presentation of Blackness bombastic (from her mannerisms, to her jewelry choices, and even some of her outfits), was not what stood out starkly to me with this new show.

What made me frown, you say?

Kenya Barris himself.

While a very clever writer and innovative showrunner, Barris is simply not an actor. The things he says are funny, as well as the situations in which he finds himself. But his acting is flat, two dimensional, a total bore. I tried to imagine his character as someone else — Will Smith, Chris Rock, Bernie Mac, and even Anthony Anderson (the star of Black-ish). In the voices of those comedians and actors, I could hear the light, fun, and honesty in Barris’ dialogue. If only he could act as well as he writes. 

What’s most interesting is that Barris’ TV daughter makes note of her dad being a one trick pony. I think this show was meant to show he can do more than just create and write. I think once quarantine is over, he may want to consider joining Second City or something similar. 

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Say what you must about Rashida Jones; she’s an actor and funny, with the correct timing for her lines.

#BlackAF is shot in mockumentary style, much like The Office or Arrested Development. It is narrated by Barris’ TV daughter, Drea (Iman Benson). The format, for me, works. The storyline, a black showrunner trying to navigate his way “properly” into white Hollywood, works. For the most part, the show is well cast, all but Barris himself.

Seeing this made me wonder if there was a screentest for the lead role. I’m going to guess no.

Despite the flat acting, I will give this show a few more episodes to see where it goes, and to see if I can perhaps get used to Barris’ “acting” style. It was recommended that episode 5 is the best of the season, for those that are curious.

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