'Black-ish': See how the ABC sitcom addressed police brutality

The newest episode of the comedy centered on the fictional Johnson family discussing recent cases of police violence against African-American men. Critics are hailing the installment as 'powerful' and 'heartrending.'

Patrick Wymore/ABC/AP
The cast of 'Black-ish' (from l.: Laurence Fishburne, Tracee Ellis Ross, Marcus Scribner, Jennifer Lewis, standing center, Miles Brown, Marsai Martin and Anthony Anderson) appear in the most recent episode, which discussed police brutality.

The most recent episode of the ABC sitcom “Black-ish” centered on parents Dre (Anthony Anderson) and Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) attempting to discuss police brutality with their children and the culturally relevant plotline is drawing praise.

“Black-ish” also stars Marcus Scribner, Yara Shahidi, Miles Brown, Marsai Martin, and Laurence Fishburne and debuted in 2014.

Series creator Kenya Barris said he was inspired to write the episode after he and his wife discussed such issues with their son. 

“It literally kicked off from my son during the Ferguson indictment period,” Barris said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “When the results were coming out, whether they were going to be indicted or not, my son, Beau – at the time he was like 6 or 7 – turned around and said, ‘Why are these people so mad?’ And it really kicked off a conversation between me and my wife and how to actually answer that question.”

The whole episode occurs in one section of the house as the Johnson family is seeing what will happen with a new case in which a black man was abused by police. 

The decision to address the topic on a network comedy is being praised by critics, many of whom say those behind the show handled the plotline sensitively. 

New York Times writer James Poniewozik called the episode “remarkable.”

“It was funny but heartbreaking, nuanced but not mealy-mouthed, blunt but not despairing,” Poniewozik wrote. “It firmly established ‘black-ish,’ if there was any doubt, as a sitcom that’s not just timely but up to the challenge of its times… [the episode] proved how sitcoms can still matter; even in a time of fragmented audiences, they can connect."

David Sims of The Atlantic wrote that the episode was “powerful,” writing, “’Black-ish’’s continued presence on the small screen, and ABC’s willingness to let it talk about more charged issues in depth, is a strong reminder of why network television needs more families that look like the Johnsons on screen,” while Sonia Saraiya of Salon found that “the storytelling around the children is the strongest, both funny and bright and heartwarming… Ultimately – no matter how brilliant ‘Black-ish’ showrunner Kenya Barris is at weaving difficult topics together with adorable snark – it’s heartrending.”

The episode is titled “Hope” and Barris called the notion “what we wake up for every day.” 

“We wake up with a sense of hope, or with a sense that things are going to be better for us and even better for our kids,” he told EW.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.