Sunday, March 26, 2023

“We’re a Show That Takes Place and Exists in the Same World We All Do”: ‘THR Presents’ Q&A With ‘Black-ish’ Stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross

By its title alone, ABC’s Black-ish addresses important cultural and political issues. And the intense year that was 2020 gave the series’ Emmy-nominated seventh season plenty of material to work with.

“We’re a show that takes place and exists in the same world we all do,” Black-ish showrunner and executive producer Courtney Lilly says during a roundtable conversation with THR Presents, powered by Vision Media, that also included his Emmy-nominated leads: executive producer Anthony Anderson, who plays Andre “Dre” Johnson, and producer Tracee Ellis Ross, who plays Rainbow Johnson.

In this most recent season, the show touched upon the November election, Black Lives Matter and the coronavirus pandemic. The latter was especially important, Lilly says, because Rainbow is a doctor and “she’s somebody who would have seen a side of the pandemic that a lot of us … didn’t get to see.”

Lilly and others also wanted to find ways to mine pain for comedy. In the episode “What About Gary?,” the well-meaning cousin (Rob Huebel) of Rainbow, who is bi-racial, took the path of many white progressives and asked Dre to help educate him on his own biases. At the end, Dre films a video telling those with similar questions to ask Google instead of him.

“I got the phone call just like a lot of us did,” Anderson says, adding that “I enjoyed the episode because Gary was invited to the picnic and you’re always invited to the picnic until you put your foot in the mouth.”

The show has been airing long enough that audiences have seen the family grow. They welcomed a new baby a couple seasons ago and sent eldest child Zoey (Yara Shahidi) off to college. And Jack and Diane, the characters played by Miles Brown and Marsai Martin, started the show as tweens and are now fully into their teenage years. In the season’s “Babes in Boyland” episode, the show used the dynamic of having a boy and a girl who were the same age to explore inherent gender biases in our culture. Jack was celebrated for posting a shirtless Instagram photo while Diane was punished for having a secret account.

The episode ends with both Dre and Rainbow checking their own stigmas — and with Jack and Diane both grounded. Because this is, ultimately, a comedy, the parents laughed and celebrated their decision.

“You think you’re entering into an episode that’s about a fake Instagram account and our daughter hiding something from us,” Ross says. “But instead, unexpectedly, you walk into this landmine of gender politics and how parents raise their kids. And then, of course, in typical Black-ish style, our answer — Dre and I — is that we decide to punish them equally.”

This edition of THR Presents is sponsored by ABC.


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