Kenya Barris has long been a filmmaker with a focus on telling the stories of African-American families. His writing and directing résumé includes hits in both film and TV including Black-ish, Little, and Girls Trip. With his latest endeavor, BlackAF, it seems as if Barris is seeking to tell his own story. After all, the show stars Barris as a fictionalized version of himself. With an ensemble cast featuring Rashida Jones (Parks & Rec) and a team of young, talented actors, the series peels back the curtain on a black family in America trying to navigate both wealth and self-identity.
Centered around the aftermath of Kenya’s million-dollar deal with Netflix, BlackAF features a fresh commentary on race in America. With issues ranging from the expectations of black moms to the responsibilities thrust upon older children in large families, the series hit home for me personally. Growing up in a middle-class black family in the suburbs of Chicago provided me with a certain outlook and expectations.
These dynamics are addressed throughout the series and addresses the feeling many multi-race individuals, including myself, have felt throughout our lives. This extends to several key characters, most notably Joya (Jones), a biracial mother of black children. In addition to Jones herself having an upbringing splitting time between black and Jewish families, those challenges shine through Joya as well. The pressure to choose a side comes long before the ability to decide who you really want to be.
However, at its very core, the series is a comedy. Within the opening minutes, it brings the laughs. Borrowing the documentary-style comedy formula that defined The Office, the series acts as a school project for the second-oldest of Kenya’s children Drea. Viewers are quickly introduced to Kenya’s views on race as he struggles with how to spend his newly-obtained riches. The series is not afraid to mix reality with fiction and provide viewers of all backgrounds with new perspectives on the lives of African-Americans.
While Kenya struggles with success and being rich and black in America, the show also shines a light on its supporting cast. Notably, the family features a bevy of personalities. Iman Benson, Genneya Walton, Scarlet Spencer, Justin Clairborne, and Rovi Cabot-Conyers play their roles perfectly. Ranging from shy to outgoing to inappropriate to domineering, the children represent almost every possible outcome of growing up with parents who still have some growing up to do. Additionally, Gil Ozeri’s role as Kenya’s Jewish assistant desperate to impress his boss provides a litany of show-stealing one-liners.
Even outside of that, the show brings in notable names like Tyler Perry and Ava DuVernay in wonderful cameos. With Barris standing as a powerful content creator, he truly capitalizes on those relationships to bolster episodes with fun appearances.
The one thing that truly impressed me was Barris himself. This series serves as the first time the director/writer has appeared on-camera. He often plays the butt of the joke as the dad without a clue. However, his comedic timing and real reactions to the events happening around him makes the filmmaker a lock for possible nominations come awards season.
Overall, BlackAF is captivatingly irreverent and brutally honest. It shines a light on a normal American family who just happens to be black and wealthy. Its real-life approach to race, family, sexuality, and relationships makes for an easy-to-binge series for adults. The hilarious titles to each episode (Ep. 8 is titled i know you may not get this, but the reason we deserve a vacation is… because of slavery) and how most problems facing black Americans stems from the country’s not-so-distant history with slavery and racism are a big plus as well. – Christian Hubbard
BlackAF is streaming on Netflix now! The series stars Kenya Barris, Rashida Jones, Iman Benson, Genneya Walton, Scarlet Spencer, Justin Clairborne, and Rovi Cabot-Conyers.
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