Listen: ‘#BlackAF’ Creator-Star Kenya Barris Calls Police Brutality a ‘Compulsion’
If exposing his life in the semi-autobiographical ABC comedy “Black-ish” wasn’t enough, Kenya Barris now plays a fictionalized version of himself in “#BlackAF.” The Netflix series — the first project under the $100 million overall deal that Barris signed with the streamer in August 2018 — is a satirical look at himself, his family (series co-producer Rashida Jones plays his wife) and his career. The show was recently picked up for a second season.
Fame and fortune aside (he’s also the writer behind movies “Girls Trip” and the upcoming “Coming to America” sequel), Barris isn’t numb to the harsh, and sometimes fatal, realities of being Black. “Still when I’m with my boys in the car, I’m like, ‘Police, 8 o’clock. Police, 3 o’clock,’” the 45-year-old Inglewood native says on Tuesday’s episode of the Variety and iHeart podcast “The Big Ticket.” “I’m like, why am I calling out the police? I’m OK, dude. I have no reason to do this, but I still call them out. I’m still like, ‘Everyone should just be aware — to our right there are officers.’”
Variety caught up with Barris from his home in the Valley.
How are you coping these days?
I’m trying to get back to work. I think for the last two or three weeks it’s been a little hard to work, honestly. Trying to get back to work and trying to remain [and] act normal in a world that’s not normal. I think that’s what we’re all trying to do, right?
Are you hopeful about the future?
I have kids, so I have to be hopeful. I also am hopeful in the moment that I’m seeing. It feels to be a much more unified moment than I’ve seen in a long time. It reminds me of the civil rights movement, where people are just like, “Enough is enough,” from all different walks of life. That means a lot to me.
Do you think it will last?
I think there will be lasting change. I don’t know that this moment of unity and this moment will last, but I think there will be lasting change. I do want to believe. My hope is that this moment will bring about some changes that can’t be taken away.
How much do you feel with the position that you’re in that you have to get involved? And is it to have a voice? Is it to create?
I think all the above. I feel like literally all the above. I want to get involved, boots on the ground. I want to say something. I want to write about it. I want to talk to my friends who I know don’t look like me, but I believe their heart is in the right place. I want to talk to people who I think their heart isn’t in the right place. I want to sort of make this a moment of clarity and of healing.
I imagine a lot of the big-decision meetings you’re in are still very white, but is there a different feeling or energy now? Are people trying to change?
It is absolutely a different energy. I’m absolutely seeing more representation. I’m lucky. I work for Netflix, and Disney has done a really good job in some aspects, too. Netflix is a company that is very much about diversity. One of the craziest words I ever heard was “safe spaces” because the least safe place is a safe space. You don’t want to be around people who all think like you. There is zero growth that’s going to happen. You need to make sure that the people that you’re around are a sampling of the world that you actually want to live in.
How involved will you be in the 2020 elections?
As much as I can. I might write an episode of “Black-ish” about it. The census is a really big deal to me. I think that voter suppression is a real, real, real problem. We saw it recently on the Super Tuesdays, with people being told they had to wait outside for seven hours while there were voting booths empty inside.
I look at right now what’s happening with the police and I tell people, “They know they’re being watched, and this is happening. What the f— do you think they’re doing when they’re not being watched?” It’s a compulsion. It is something that they have been doing for so long that they can’t stop themselves. I am not anti-police. If I hear a creak in my house, I am the first to call the police. I definitely feel like we have to change the structure. It doesn’t need to be a mobilized army. The power needs to be given to people who understand it and respect it. I read somewhere that it’s 1,500 hours to become a barber and it’s 880 to become a cop. That’s insane. I feel like we have to sort of make a person who goes into law enforcement understand that this is a respected job with a lot of weight to it and that why not have four years of college or why not have two and a half years of academy under your belt? Why not get the sensitivity training? Why not do these things?
This interview has been edited and condensed. Hear the entire interview above. You can also find “The Big Ticket” at iHeartRadio or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.