This week Netflix launched a new series called #blackAF by American screenwriter and producer Kenya Barris, with Rashida Jones as an actress and executive producer in the joint, as Spike Lee would say.
I was curious to watch this show because of Rashida Jones, daughter of Quincy Jones. She’s a biracial American actress, half white and half black. The first time I saw her acting was on The Office, one of my favorite tv shows. As a fan of grown-ish and black-ish (hopefully one day I’ll get to watch “mixed-ish“), I’ve always wanted to give a face to its creator, Kenya Barris. Once I knew that he was the author and producer of this show, I decided to take some of my time and watch the whole show carefully.
#blackAF is an enjoyable and funny show. However, there were some parts that I found repetitive and out of tone. I think that this is typical of Mr. Barris writing, though. In general, I had a good time watching it because I’m an aspiring screenwriter. See, I do have a passion for fashion and movies, and journalism gives me the ability to keep it up with both fields. I feel fulfilled when creativity with visuals and words come together, because they carry a lot of messages that can shape, help, and be at service at a community. But I think that my point of view, as an immigrant brown woman of color, can highlight some issues that the media industry in this country has in its institutions and society, perpetuated in this tv show.
Just like grown-ish and black-ish, the family portrayed in this show is mixed with a biracial mother, an African American father, hip, trendy, and fit kids, living comfortably in sunny California and being part of the upper-middle class. Some might argue that as Kenya Barris takes his own family and life into as inspirations for his shows, this in reality isn’t a truthful representation of a black family in the USA. Los Angeles isn’t the setting for everyone, yet the entertainment industry in which both the fictional and real Barris’ family makes profit from. I am not African-American. But the American black people I have been friends with and I know, do not live like Kenya and Rashida. I met some who do, but the majority of them don’t. For this reason, I thought the title was more of a marketing strategy to catch an audience rather than a self-explanatory description of the show. I didn’t grasp the AF part while watching the show.
The show is a documentary filmed by one of Barris’ daughter, played by Iman Benson. This is an assignment she has for her college admission, enrolling as a film major. She plans to show off her father and the entire family as she presents her cinematographic skills. In the first episode, she introduces each family member, her house, and what kind of status she lives in. What I appreciated in this episode was the historical intermission with which Iman’s character explains the importance of swag, appearance, and urban fashion among the African American community. Many are the times when Barris mentions that all issues related to Black people started with American slavery, including the origins of the Sunday Best suits, followed by the athletic-leisure clothes and accessories that came later with hip hop, social movements, and literary currents.
Another point Barris makes sure to note throughout the series is the relationship between black creatives and critics, specifically in the movie industry. In one scene with several filmmakers, like Ava DuVernay , Issa Rae, and Lea Waithe, he ponders in how relevant a creative work should be viewed, appreciated, and discussed. Not everyone ends up having the same thoughts, but at least there’s an open conversation.
The last three episodes are focused mostly on partnership and marital problems. I found this part interesting, but also not a universal experience that black women and men face. Every romantic relationship is unique and suits the individuals who are involved, but I believe that this was saturated and forced, with a splash of reality. One thing is true, though: couple fights are ugly realities, but important to establish a long-term bond.
The final question
So it this show good because it is about black people or do people want it to be considered good because it was made by a black man? One thing that I appreciated by Barris was that he pointed out how scared this society is to express criticism. This fear comes from political correctness, often times too stiff and stagnant that doesn’t make enough space to transparency and fairness, because there’s the major worry to hurt a group of people. Within the community there are communication problems too. Is this show bad because it didn’t speak to people of color or because it didn’t spark any reflections among the audience?
For me this show was both good and bad, nothing spectacular, but also a sociological experience. I’ll always be a learner in this country. I’m happy to be a student for life, even though there are times when I wish I could master and share my knowledge already. However, I do recognize that time will make its job and that learning is a constant journey we’re all on.
As a part of a narrowed minority, made of brown and black immigrant women, I plan to invest my time in knowing my surroundings and let my creativity sprout within limitations, fears, and temporary struggles I might face. Before calling the USA my home, I need to understand its people and listen to their voices. Make sure to stream #blackAF, because you will laugh and smile, but also learn a lot and hopefully make constructive observations on your own.
the curly flower