‘Black-ish’ Creator Kenya Barris: I Left Disney for Netflix Over Shelved Anti-Trump Episode

“I don’t know that I would have been as useful to them as they’d need me to be after that,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter

Kenya Barris
Kenya Barris (Photo credit: Megan Miller)

ABC’s decision to not air “Black-ish’s” so-called anti-Trump episode in February was the final straw for the show’s creator Kenya Barris, who left his ABC Studios deal well before it’s expiration to move over to Netflix.

“I don’t know that I would have been as useful to them as they’d need me to be after that,” Barris told The Hollywood Reporter in a lengthy interview. Barris also detailed exactly what happened with the planned Feb. 27 episode, titled “Please, Baby, Please.”

In the episode, Barris told THR, Anthony Anderson’s Dre was telling his son, Devante, a bedtime story, about the past year (and first year) of Devante’s life. It was to be a mix of animation and live-action, real-world footage news footage of Trump, The Charlottesville attacks and NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem, according to THR. The episode would’ve also reportedly featured a voiceover from Spike Lee.

“I know there was some concern about partisanship,” Barris said, “and the way the episode was angled and the balance in terms of some of the stories. On network TV, one of the things I’ve learned is that you have to talk about things from both sides.” Barris told THR that even Disney CEO Bob Iger called him about the episode to discuss the political realities of being a broadcast network in 2018.

But after it was shelved just days before its scheduled airdate — they attempted to re-cut the episode but the amount of anti-Trump material made that impossible, he told THR — Barris said he began to try to get out of his contract with ABC Studios, despite just re-signing. He also had some harsh words for Disney-ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood:

“The way that [Ben] chose to deal with me in this particular episode, I felt a way about it and I still do. He’d make it seem like it was an open environment but really it wasn’t, and those are things I see very clearly. Everyone wants to say it’s open arms, but just tell me it’s not and I’ll respect you more.”

Barris added that his decision to leave ABC for Netflix, which was announced in August, was also due in part to having trouble getting ABC Studios to greenlight anything else he was working on. A 2017 comedy pilot with Felicity Huffman and Courtney B. Vance “Libby & Malcolm” was passed on after multiple reshoots.

“I’m aware when my things aren’t good,” he said. “But I’d [gladly] have a forum and show these pilots to the world. If I’m crazy, judge me. I’ve done things where I’m like, ‘Ugh, that wasn’t right,’ these were not that. And it just becomes so frustrating.”

He was also angry about the “Black-ish” spinoff, “Grownish” being moved to cable network Freeform and “Black-ish” itself being moved away from “Modern Family.” He also didn’t like, even though it gave his show a ratings boost, being behind “Roseanne.”

Read the full interview in THR here.