'Black-ish' Showrunner Opens Up About Police Brutality Episode and Balancing Comedy With Controversial Topics

by Leanne Aguilera 9:55 AM PST, February 25, 2016
Photo: ABC

Black-ish tackled yet another hot-button issue with intelligence and grace.

On Wednesday night's episode of the hit ABC comedy, Dre (Anthony Anderson), his wife (Tracee Ellis Ross), his parents (Laurence Fishburne and Jenifer Lewis), and his four children spent almost the entire episode in their living room debating a case of police brutality near their Los Angeles home.

"Here's the deal," Dre said to his family at the episode's climax after many back-and-forth discussions about the timely issue. "This is the world that we live in: a whole lot of white, a whole lot of black -- but mostly gray. But as a family we're going to figure it out together."

By the end of the episode, entitled "Hope," the Johnsons decided to go down to the protest together as a family because "something's gotta change."

EXCLUSIVE: How 'Black-ish' Will Mix Controversy With Comedy in Season 2

Showrunner Kenya Barris opened up to the New York Times about what he hoped to accomplish with this episode and how she's perfected Black-ish's unique style of dealing with controversial topics through comedic tones.

"Police brutality is the issue we chose to talk about, but the bigger issue for me is talking to your kids about what's going on in the world," Barris revealed. "It used to be you could shelter them in your own way, but with Internet and phones and 24-hour news, you can't avoid those conversations."

Barris explained that the half-hour episode, which took place almost entirely in the Johnsons' living room, was shot so that it felt like the audience at home was "an eighth member of the family."

"I wanted to do something different. We wanted to let the audience eavesdrop on this family's conversation," he said.

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As for the episode's balance of comedy and controversy, Barris confessed that she was initially "nervous" because "it's not a super-funny episode."

"We wanted to have enough of a balance that it didn't bum you out completely, but it gave you an entry point to accept what was happening," he said.

"The biggest thing was we didn't want to trivialize the subject, but at the same time, we are aware we're a family comedy. I believe comedy is a really good lens to filter serious issues through," Barris continued. "If people are laughing, they don't necessarily realize until they stop laughing that they just took something in that's going to start a conversation."

Black-ish airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

Press play on our exclusive interview with Black-ish star Anthony Anderson below to find out how the series finds the perfect balance of comedy and controversial topics.