ABC’s “Black-ish” hasn’t shied away from the tensions surrounding the presidential election, showing the fictional Johnson family, longtime Obama admirers and now Hillary Clinton supporters, floored by the election of Donald Trump.
In this week’s episode, called “Lemons,” family patriarch Dre Johnson, a Los Angeles ad executive and father of four, and his colleagues struggle to come to grips with the election outcome, exploring what motivated Trump supporters. “Black-ish” airs on Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.
“I think we find a happy balance not only in the show, but this episode in particular, you want to hear from every perspective,” said Anthony Anderson, who plays Dre. “So you know it’s fair and real and not everyone that we interact with in our lives is of the same accord. And that should reflect in the stories we tell on our show.”
Anderson had his own separate reaction to the election.
“This election doesn’t scare me at all,” he said. “That’s why we all have to come together and fight for what we believe is right and fair. Some people can’t talk about it -- that’s their personal preference. Some people just want to put their head in the sand and think it’s going to go away.”
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“Black-ish” is now in its third season and its creator Kenya Barris has always embraced hot-button issues as episode topics, from discussing the use of the n-word to police brutality. He said his decision to do an episode on the outcome of election was the result of a “combination of things.”
“I woke up Wednesday morning [after the election] and I was like, ‘I gotta write something,” he said. “I came into work and I think the real thing was the conversations I was hearing around the table.”
“Black-ish” has been on President-elect Trump’s radar for some time. When the show launched in 2014, long before he entered the presidential race, Trump tweeted, “How is ABC Television allowed to have a show entitled ‘Blackish’? Can you imagine the furor of a show called ‘Whiteish’! Racism at the highest level?”
“I’ve known Donald for a few years, not intimately, but in passing. We’ve played golf together and I’ve stayed at his hotels, and all of that. I have his number in my phone,” Anderson said. “But when he made that tweet, I found it interesting. He’s like ‘racism at its highest level.’ I’m like, if you look at the landscape of television, you don’t have to have a show called 'White-ish,' because that’s what television is or has been for some time. We rarely get to tell our stories.”
Barris said he ran into Trump at the White House Correspondents' Dinner this past August and confronted the president-elect about the tweet.
“He just looked through me, stopped, didn’t know who I was, introduced himself,” Barris said. “And I was like, ‘Have you had a chance to watch the show yet?’ And he was like, ‘No’ and I was like, ‘That doesn’t sound like a very presidential thing to do to make an opinion off of something that you haven’t seen,’ and he just looked at me like, ‘OK’”
“'Black-ish' has distinguished itself by tackling controversy through pointed humor. Dr. Rainbow Johnson, played by Golden Globe winner Tracee Ellis Ross, said she can relate to her character’s reaction to the election.
“She’s spinning out of control, unclear with how to respond to what I’m feeling, which I think was so much what a lot of people were feeling,” Ross said. “What I do like about what my character is doing and really kind of touches on in a very light, sort of topical way, some of what I did in my life. Like I didn’t do Christmas gifts this year. I donated to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.”
Jenifer Lewis, who plays Grandma Ruby on the show, made waves on social media with her aggressive “Get Out the Vote” campaign. She said filming the election episode was very emotional for her.
“It took me back to the moment of being numb when I saw that Donald Trump was the president-elect,” she said. “It was not easy to react with the four children sitting there with me on that sofa because I’m ashamed with what we’ve left them.”
As for the young actors on “Black-ish” who play the Johnson children, they say working on a show that takes on real-life issues empowers them.
“We learned a lot of things from ‘Black-ish,’ like police brutality, the election, usually stuff that you wouldn’t think kids our age would actually know,” said Marsai Martin, who plays Diane Johnson on the show.
“It’s cool being on a show where we talk about these social issues and we learn about people throughout history, and it definitely awakens your interest in those kinds of things, added Marcus Scribner, who plays Andre “Junior” Johnson.
Barris pointed out that the kids on “Black-ish” have grown up with seeing President Obama in the White House.
“They grew up in a situation with a black family in the White House, Jay Z and Beyoncé -- king of the world -- Will Smith biggest movie star. They saw something amazing -- a woman almost become president. So this is the first time they get to say ‘Oh,’ like the rubber hits the road,” he said.
One thing that’s for sure is the show is committed to continuing to explore topics around the new administration and the changes possibly to come.
“If we find something titillating as I’m sure we will, as we have in the last three years, we will find some interesting ways to tackle this subject,” Anderson said.