Kenya Barris talks 'a very special episode' — and how it's inspired the writers

By Nicole Sperling
September 09, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT
ART STREIBER for EW
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Kenya Barris, the creator of ABC’s black-ish, got the closest he promises he will ever come to “a very special episode” with last season’s half hour devoted to the uptick in gun violence in America. Titled “Hope,” the primarily single-scene episode featured a conversation between husband and wife Dre (Anthony Anderson) and Dr. Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross), their four children, and Dre’s parents (Laurence Fishburne and Jennifer Lewis) about the police brutality against black men and the resulting social unrest that has been playing out across the country.

The episode stemmed, as most black-ish episodes do, from Barris’ home life. In the case of “Hope,” it was pulled from a conversation Barris had with his young son, who asked him why everyone is so angry.

“The night it aired, I knew we tapped into something,” says Anderson in his trailer during a short break from filming season 3 on Disney’s Burbank lot. “Our Twitter feed went up 2,500 percent that night and it sparked a conversation. That’s been our mission statement all along. We pride ourselves on bringing up divisive topics and bringing people to the table who have different points of view.”

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Barris admits that the episode changed the conversation for his writing staff and the kind of work the group hopes to do in the upcoming season.

“I would love to say it’s just business as normal but it definitely feels like it’s an added pressure,” says Barris. “I feel like we are still trying to tell stories in the same kind of way. Organic. But at the same time, I feel like there is a real effort to say, ‘What does this scene mean? How do we dig a little deeper? How do we make it specific to this show?'”

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As an example of how his work has changed, Barris describes an upcoming season 3 episode focused on the term “blue collar” and how it has become divisive during this election cycle. “People have been saying that term with a bit of an edge,” says Barris, “but that’s what this country was founded on.”

Black-ish season 3 will debut on ABC Wednesday, Sept. 21.

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