'black-ish' Creator Kenya Barris Accused of Colorism After '#BlackAF' Cast Announced

Kenya Barris is currently preparing for his fourth show #BlackAF after the success of his show black-ish and its spinoffs grown-ish and mixed-ish.

According to Deadline, the new Netflix series “uncovers and explores the messy, unapologetic and often hilarious world of what it means to be a ‘new money’ Black family trying to get it right in a modern world where ‘right’ is no longer a fixed concept.” It is inspired by Barris’ “approach to parenting, relationships, race, and culture.”

But not everyone is so psyched for the new sitcom. After the entire main cast was announced, Twitter quickly reacted to the light-skinned cast and accused Barris of colorism.

In case you’re not familiar, colorism is the prejudice or discrimination against dark-skinned individuals and is particularly prevalent in black, latinx, and South Asian communities.

Colorism in the black community can be traced back to slavery when light-skinned individuals were given more privileges than their darker counterparts. It inspired the idea of the “brown paper bag test” in which anyone lighter than a paper bag was more desirable and therefore received more privileges.

The reaction to Barris’ new show, which also stars Rashida Jones, is not purely based on this one cast, but rather on Barris’ history of only casting light-skinned black actors in his shows, all of which are supposed to talk openly about black issues in America. (Ironically, Barris’ show black-ish even had an episode devoted to colorism).

black af blackaf #blackaf
black-ish cast / Facebook

In his current shows, the darkest actors are Marsai Martin in black-ish and Tika Sumpter in mixed-ish. Even side characters are often light-skinned. All you have to do is look at grown-ish, in which all of Zoey’s (Yara Shahidi) black friends are cast by light-skin actors. Think Chloe and Halle Bailey and Luka Sabbat.

When Barris caught wind that Twitter was accusing him of colorism, he immediately got defensive. He wrote,

“Guys, this is supposed to be real. What do u think Rashida & I’s kids would look like? Have you seen MY actual very real and definitely BLACK family? Don’t we have enough hate from others?”

He added,

“And I’m also not gonna make up a fake family that genetically makes no sense just for the sake of trying to fill quotas. I LOVE MY PEOPLE!—”

Commenters were quick to prove his “genetic” defense wrong with pictures of their own families, which included individuals of all shades.

One person wrote,

“Black families come in all shades so touting genetics is wrong but also this man has 3 shows about various forms of black identity/experiences and yet, still hasn’t found a reason or way to incorporate darker individuals.”

Another person wrote,

“I’m the skin tone of my daughter. Their father is darker than both me and my daughter. And my son’s hair texture is no where near the coarseness of ours. My parents’ skin tones are both like me and my daughter’s and so are their father’s parents’. God bless your colorist mind.”

Cast of grown-ish / Freeform and Kelsey McNeal

Unfortunately, his “genetic” defense wasn’t the only thing wrong about his tweet. The idea that he would only be casting darker actors to “fill a quota” is straight-up offensive.

There are plenty of talented dark-skinned actors who would love to be cast in one of his shows. Clearly, he just wasn’t trying that hard to cast one of them.

For someone who has built his career on creating shows based on the black experience, it’s sad that he doesn’t want to portray the entire black experience. There are already so few mainstream dark-skinned actors, even fewer female dark-skinned actors, and Barris has a unique platform to give them opportunities.

As for Barris, he left one final comment on Twitter and wrote,

“I’m going to say this and then let what happens happen… Colorism is a divisive tool used by the powerful to separate the truly powerful.”

Ironic since the only colorist here is you, Kenya.


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Feature Photo: Netflix / Twitter

Lena Finkel
Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules. When she's not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her hanging out with her tuxedo cat Tom.