I’m a tough critic, which means if you put a movie or TV series in front of me I will naturally pick it apart. After you’ve worked in the industry for years, seen a few movies made and edited your own work — you can quickly identify flaws in the plot, characters, themes or things that should have been left on the cutting room floor — including entire series. You develop a keen eye for detail and how the subject matter plays into pop culture or in this case, history. Black history. With a subject matter so nuanced, it’s easy AF to fu*ck it all up.
Insert Kenya Barris’ Black AF, which under no other circumstance than coronavirus would I have watched otherwise. I do not watch Black-ish, Mixed-ish or any other ish for that matter because it didn’t think it would appeal to my Blackness. Sheer curiosity, and a long viral FB thread that read the series for filth, prompted me to watch Barris’ latest contribution to Netflix. With the limited amount of positive Black families we see on TV, did we need another project from Barris that centers around the acceptable version of Black america?
In the viral post, Ernest Owens writes,
“Kenya Barris is a Black man who married a white passing, mixed-race woman and have raised interracial children under a household of affluence. There is nothing wrong with any of this at all, love is love. But here’s where it gets messy: He has literally created not one, but FOUR major television shows (Blackish, Grownish, Mixedish, and now blackAF) that constantly wrestles with the complexities of these family dynamics over and over again. As a result, the Black audience, who he claims to be trying to appeal to, are fed lackluster and tired commentaries on race, an erasure of dark skinned Black leading characters, an obsession of the white gaze, and a caricature of privileged light skinned people performing what Blackness looks like to them in the most annoying ways.”
I too struggled through the first episode, which was centered around “white gaze.” The last time I seen that many dramatic and drawn out cynical conversations at one time was in Scandal. I asked myself numerous times, “What the hell am I watching?” I didn’t need the lesson on white gaze but I’m not going to deny that some Black folk seek the validation of White people or view themselves under the perspective of White gaze and that it manifests differently depending on circumstance. Seeking white validation is nothing new. These are plights that affect the Black race.
Despite the abrasiveness of episode one, I was entertained enough to keep watching. The molly episode won me over (for reasons I will not disclose). I laughed audibly. Now don’t get me wrong, Black AF presents many problems. For as many times as I laughed, I had thoughts surrounding the casting –the lack of dark skin, kinky-haired actresses was uncomfortable. Every scene, I grappled with being presented fair-skin actresses with proverbial “good hair,” which triggered my Black girl experience. It’s impossible to have a show called Black AF without addressing colorism and featurism, yet somehow Black AF doesn’t — instead we’re presented conversations around feminism and that episode where the youngest daughter is twerking on the gram. Was no one going to mention that she was dancing to City Girls with two white girls?
Editor’s Note: That scene when Barris’ aunties raved about Tyler Perry’s movies is real AF.
There were performative moments of Blackness, like the close-up shot of collard greens at the cookout (though collard greens are a Black delicacy). The whole Jay Z intro. Nothing is Blacker than loving Jay Z. Raises hand. Or when sis admitted she voted for Obama because he smokes weed and is Black — an admission I’ve heard many times in real life. My parents don’t call me a “d*ck head” or use derogatory terms to address me — I have no resolve for that. It all made me question if I was mad at the message or the really light skin messengers.
Then comes the heavy ish — being bi-racial and the policing of Blackness. Who gets to be Black and is Rasheeda Jones it? Hmph. Being someone who would, in my past years, gave a swift hell to the no she isn’t Black, I stopped to think — when Rashida walks outside does anyone take her for a white woman? Obviously, examining Blackness includes how one self-identifies and their struggles in parallel to the Black struggle. Does Rashida Jones get followed around Bloomingdales? Or can she pass and therefore escape her Blackness when beneficial? Something that is not Black at all. Or can you be biracial and aware of the complexities of being “mixed.”
Much controversy around the show also has to do with other performative Blackness, like Kenya’s gold rope chains and sweatsuits that represent his wealth.As a Black man, he always wants to exhibit “he made it.” We watch as he grapples with his own wardrobe in respect to his performative behavior.
I laughed when Rashida’s character referenced dancing as biracial currency. Let’s all stop acting like we don’t know what she’s talking about. There are things we take pride in our Black culture — being faster, stronger, effortless and our ability to simply catch the beat. It’s a clear line in the sand and if yo a** is on the other side, we’re side-eyeing you. Sh*t if you’re fully Black and can’t dance, we’re giving you the side-eye.
Mixed plight is real and after having many profound conversations with my biracial friend who was raised by a Black woman, it is a never-ending seesaw of proving your Blackness. And Black people reserve the authority to decide.
Not everyone hates Black AF. I am not alone in my ability to admit I laughed. The consensus is Black AF is for white audiences, yet I’m Black AF and enjoyed watching. That Blackest ish Black AF did was present a Black man with a biracial women. I’m joking, but I’m serious.
I can admit, I am probably not fatigued by the ishes since I don’t watch the previously existing Barris shows. Black AF appears to be the M rated version of the ABC version of Black-ish. So if you’ve watched one ish, Black AF is devoid of any new themes just presented with more curses and risque storylines. I can be entertained while fully understanding the duality and depths of Blackdom against the world. And what is Blacker than that?