“#BlackAF,” the new Netflix show created, co-written and co-directed by renowned African American television producer Kenya Barris has already made its way onto the streaming platform’s Top 10 watched list. The show follows Kenya Barris, who plays himself, as he goes through life with a dysfunctional upper-class black family which mirrors the one he has in real life.
Barris’ filmmaking style, which consists of in your face pro-blackness with the mission of poking fun at African American stereotypes and societal roles, has been adored by viewers everywhere. It’s what has turned him into a household name with shows like “Blackish,” “Grownish,” and “Mixedish.” His stylistic approach to creating this show was no different: It contains a majority black cast and pokes fun and addresses critical topics that are important to black families.
The Show Misses Its Target
However, many of the reviews find it to be underperforming in terms of reaching its target audience. Why? It’s simple: Barris tried to create a show that was seemingly “#BlackAF” but in the end, he isolates his audience, trying to throw them into a setting and narrative they can’t relate to and do not want to be a part of.
As a budding African American filmmaker, creators like Kenya Barris inspire me with their ability to write and showcase narratives that address African American life so effectively. What Barris has done so well throughout his television and filmmaking career is capture the relatability of the black lifestyle that was and still is missing from Hollywood.
The Missing Middle Class
With his other efforts, Barris has touched on the middle-class lifestyle of the black community that many African Americans had not seen since “The Cosby Show” and that other younger viewers never got to see. This is what draws the average African American viewer to Barris and his shows. However, the feelings of relatability and comfort that you get from watching shows like “Blackish” and “Grownish” are missing when you get into watching “#BlackAF.”
The new show starts off with one of the daughters, Drea (Iman Benson), introducing herself and the series as a mission to chronicle the lives of her family through her NYU film school application. Throughout the eight-episode season, we experience the wacky and strange affluent lifestyle that Drea and her family live. It’s from here on that I felt sheer isolation from the show. There’s nothing I can relate to, be a part of, or see myself in when it comes to the life Barris is trying to showcase.
As a future filmmaker and someone who wants to eventually participate and enjoy a lifestyle similar to the one that Kenya Barris has, I can definitely say watching the first couple episodes of “#BlackAF” made me want to reconsider my goals.
A Constant Flex of Money
“#BlackAF” is definitely by far the whitest TV show that Kenya Barris has ever made, and it’s not because he’s wealthy. Everything about him and his family match what you would think of as the stereotypical white family household that is portrayed in the media. His kids are obnoxious, rude, and allowed to curse with and at their parents, there’s a constant flex of money, and countless other jokes and scenes that will make any black person say, “We don’t do that s**t.”
The hardcore black advocacy the show tries to present throughout comes off as incredibly dry, played out humor. Although the writers attempt to make statements that would spark interesting conversation and teach his kids valuable lessons that they need growing up black in America, the jokes they use to balance out the seriousness with the funny instantly take away the impact. Plus, they’re not funny.
A Messy Mockumentary
There’s a lot of crude humor that zaps away any and all notions of this being a fun-loving family comedy. None of the characters are likable, either. The father’s a wealthy a**hole, who can’t decide between loving or hating his family. He expresses this clearly through the confessional scenes in the messy mockumentary-like style of shooting the show follows. The mother, who’s played by actress Rashida Jones, is a clear wreck who doesn’t have a grip over herself or the household. The kids are all terrible in their own way. Chloe (Genneya Walton), the firstborn, is what the world would classify as a “thot” because of how she portrays herself on social media. Izzy (Scarlet Spencer) is the untalkative pre-teen who’s coming into her own, but her raging hormones make her parents think she wants to destroy the world. Pops (Justin Claiborne), the oldest son, is a sensitive child who gets heavily affected by everything, especially when his classmates don’t wish him Happy Birthday.
More Money, Less Relatability
The character styles and descriptions are similar to the ones we’ve seen previously with other Barris shows including, “Blackish.” However, the lifestyles are completely different. Average African American households can relate to how the characters live in a show like “Blackish,” which is why the writing style is so effective when it comes to the lessons they’re trying to showcase.
In “#BlackAF,” where riches and wealth are heavily talked about and shown in a braggadocious manner, it’s hard for these same viewers, many of whom do not have the same social status as the characters they’re watching, to find anything to hold on to. To many, being black and wealthy is a blessing and also a rarity. Therefore, when a family like this is shown on-screen jokingly trying to “assimilate” more into black culture after being stuck in “white world” for too long, it gives off the notion of them trying too hard. Being black shouldn’t be something you have to try, or change yourself to be. You should just be.
Natural Blackness is Missing
For a show titled “#BlackAF,” the show is not black enough. Barris takes a black family and puts them in a situation more typically seen with white families in modern-day America and attempts to show them trying hard to connect back with their cultural roots. But he completely misses the natural blackness that people love about his characters.
No black family wants to sit and watch a black family trying too hard to be black. This lack of finesse, follow-through, and relatability that could have pulled in the viewers it was looking to attract may, ultimately, result as a rare fail for Kenya Burris in his latest effort for Netflix.