W. Kamau Bell Responds to Bill Cosby's Scathing Remarks About His Docuseries 'We Need to Talk About Cosby'

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W. Kamau Bell's docuseries, We Need to Talk About Cosby, has many people talking after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival over the weekend, including the subject of the four-part project.

Bell serves as the narrator and co-executive producer for the docuseries that explores the life, career and impact of Bill Cosby, as well as how his sexual assault allegations forever changed his legacy. The series examines the rise of Cosby from comedian to "America's Dad," and asks if it's possible to separate the art from the artist, especially when weighing his legacy against the 50+ sexual assaults he's alleged to have perpetrated during his career.

"Mr. Cosby has spent more than 50 years standing with the excluded; made it possible for some to be included; standing with the disenfranchised and standing with those women and men who were denied respectful work… because of race and gender… within the expanses of the entertainment industries," Cosby’s rep, Andrew Wyatt, said in a statement, calling Bell a "PR hack."

"Mr. Cosby continues to be the target of numerous media that have, for too many years, distorted and omitted truths… intentionally. Despite media’s repetitive reports of allegations against Mr. Cosby, none have ever been proven in any court of law," he added. "In June 2021, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court released Mr. Cosby and the court's Chief Justice defined the Pennsylvania Montgomery County District Attorney's behavior as reprehensible. Mr. Cosby knows the realities of prosecutorial violations and that those violations are threats to the integrity of our nation's criminal justice systems. That is a subject matter for a professional documentary. Mr. Cosby vehemently denies all allegations waged against him. Let's talk about Bill Cosby. He wants our nation to be what it proclaims itself to be, a democracy."

Speaking with ET's Nischelle Turner, Bell called it "funny" that Cosby continues to think of himself as a target. 

"The funny thing about this is, because of how America works and how racism works here, there are ways in which a system of white supremacy would target a powerful Black man to bring him down -- and that has happened throughout history in this country. But that doesn't always mean that the Black man didn't do something wrong," he notes. "There are racist forces that are happy for Bill Cosby's downfall, but that doesn't mean that there aren't more than 60 women who have accused him of rape and sexual assault, and those aren't credible accusations."

He explains that "the doc is bigger than Cosby" because it attempts to address the bigger issue of how the country has historically failed victims of sexual assault, especially when it comes to people as powerful as Cosby. Ultimately, Bell says, he doesn't know if it's important what Cosby thinks or takes away from the doc. 

"What's important is what we -- especially those who grew up under the Cosby umbrella -- what we take away from it. And the big takeaway I want is, how do those of us in positions of privilege and power -- specifically in show business, those of us above the line and high on the call sheet, create a safer environment for those below the line?" he adds. "That's where this happens. People who aren't number one on the call sheet just turn their eyes away when people who are, do things that are inappropriate. Creating a safe environment is more important than having a hit project."

Written and directed by Bell, We Need to Talk About Cosby dives deeply into how Cosby established himself as a powerhouse within the entertainment industry, from his "iffy" education background to his shift from stand-up comic to an icon in Black culture. The series grapples with answering the first question Bell asks his panel of comedians, cultural commentators, journalists and the women who share their most personal, harrowing encounters with Cosby: "Who is Bill Cosby?" It also asks the age-old query, can people separate the artist from their art?

Bell seems to answer this in his way, ending his narration with the admission that he almost stopped production because "I wanted to hold onto my memories of Bill Cosby before I learned about Bill Cosby."

He says that the possibility of doing so is still present, but it takes self-reflection. "I guess I can as long as I admit, as long as we all admit there was just a Bill Cosby we didn't know," he adds in the doc. "And if we really learn the lessons that this Bill Cosby was trying to teach us, to be smart and moral and not just to be good but to do good, then we can all help create a world that makes people like this and others like him, less possible."

But as the docuseries takes viewers through a meticulously constructed review of the 84-year-old's history, taking careful consideration to present both vehement detractors of Cosby and his supporters, and provide explicit recountings of his alleged assaults, it shows how impossible it is to regard the man as two different entities. Especially as it makes clear that throughout his career, from his breakout in the '60s to his establishment as an authority figure and educator on Black issues in the '70s and his takeover of the mainstream in the '80s, Cosby was alleged to be raping and assaulting women. No matter what project he was on, where he was, or how many Jell-O Pudding Pops he sold, he was allegedly preying on women throughout it all.

In the docuseries' third act, the lens sheds light on Cosby's behavior during the peak of his career on The Cosby Show. Steve Watkins, the director's assistant on the iconic NBC series, tells Bell that show tapings would have a general audience, often including families, "but then you'd get to this one pocket where there's about 20, 25 women dressed to the nines. They're all models, and they look it. It's like, 'Wow, what in the world's going on up there?' What we learned later [was] a modeling agency would bring these girls over, and they would talk to Mr. [Cosby]." 

Actors Joseph C. Phillips and Lili Bernard, the latter of whom has accused Cosby of sexual assault, recalled those women being brought to the star's dressing room after the show.

"There was always a long line of beautiful women, all different shades," Bernard says. "Yeah, they were lined up outside of his dressing room, poor things, going in and out."

Phillips, who recurred on the series as Lt. Martin Kendall, adds, "I guess they would read or, I don't know what went on, and then they would go out. It was just kind of like the air. You know, it was there, and everybody knew it."

Eden Tirl appears in the docuseries and shares her experience as a model whose agent brought her to a taping. She reveals that she managed to catch Cosby's eye and received a call from her agent the next morning that told her she got a part playing a cop on the show. Tirl claims that during rehearsals, she was pulled away by Cosby's assistant, Frank Scotti, who allegedly told her that she was to have lunch in Cosby's dressing room. According to Tirl, the actor never showed up, and when Scotti returned on the second day, Tirl claims she told him she wouldn't leave the set. 

"And I talked to two people, and I said, 'I don't want to leave the set,' and they said, 'Just go. This happens all the time. Just go,'" she recalls.

Tirl claims Cosby eventually showed up in the dressing room after three days, alleging that he locked the door. "He just said really pointedly, 'Eden, you know that you could have anything you wanted, right? You do understand who I am," Tirl claims. "And I said, 'Bill, you are Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, and you're Jell-O pudding pops to me." According to the actress, Cosby's mood changed instantly, and she claims he replied, "Don't say that to me. They all say that to me."

"I don't believe that that's the first time that happened. I don't believe that the people on that set didn't know what was happening," she says about those involved with the show who claim they didn't know about the star's alleged behavior. "A lot of people knew. Because you can't do what he did unless you have other people supporting what you're doing."

But, as the docuseries questions, is it possible to separate the art from the artist? Can one enjoy shows like The Cosby Show and Fat Albert, reconciling the fact that Cosby is both the man who introduced audiences to the Black utopia and a man who allegedly assaulted over 60 women?

"We do it all the time, we just don't think about it all the time," Bell tells ET. "Music is a great [example]. Forget criminal activity, just political viewpoints. There are ways in which artists will say things and we'll think, 'I don't agree with that, but I sure like this song. I'm excited for their album.' We do it all the time with people we don't agree with but we like their music."

"The problem is when you expect other people to draw the same line you do and, when they don't, you attack them instead of investigating yourself. We're all adults, we're all humans and we're all full of hypocrisies," he adds. "I can watch Bill Cosby and connect with who I was when I saw it or learned from it, as long as I never forget who he actually is, who he actually was behind the scenes. We are all complicated enough to hold multiple truths that seem to be conflicting in our heads all at one time but I believe we always have to hold those truths because once it's done, it's out there, and we have to reckon with it."

We Need to Talk About Cosby premieres Jan. 30 at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.


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