Submitted by DaVaun Sanders
Earlier this week, PhxSoul.com writer DaVaun Sanders talked with award-winning actor Laurence Fishburne about ABC’s new, highly anticipated television comedy black-ish. Fishburne plays Pops Johnson on the show.
Black-ish debuts on September 24 at 8:30pm (Arizona time) on ABC.
Read Sanders’ entertaining interview with Fishburne below.
DS: Thank you so much for taking some time out with us today. I imagine your character ‘Pops’ on black-ish is a lot of fun to play. He’s got a lot of old-school snap to him, and then drops in his timely nuggets of wisdom. What do you enjoy most about playing his character?
LF: I’m excited about the whole notion of this family becoming part of the American family, if you will, or being a reflection of it. I’ve known Mr. (Anthony) Anderson for many years, and have always had great affection for him and admired his work. That was the first piece for me, in terms of the acting bit -getting a chance to play with Anthony.
I worked with Ms. (Tracie) Ellis-Ross back in 2011, we actually played husband and wife. She is one of the brightest, funniest and most talented women I’ve had a chance to work with. So also the opportunity to work with her on the acting side of these things, that’s where the fun is for me.
DS: Excellent. Can you speak on the nuances of how Pops’ character grows as the season develops?
LF: I’d be lying if I told you I knew how that was going to happen. Essentially I am a recurring character on the show; Pops won’t be involved in all episodes. Thus far I’ve done five, including the pilot. We structured it that way because I have lots of other obligations as an actor and producer. So in terms of running the business of my company Cinema Gypsy, I’m developing several cable shows and films … I couldn’t commit to doing a full season.
With that said, all the characters on black-ish will evolve as the show evolves. We have a basic premise and I think our first season’s mission will be about establishing the show’s identity and all the identities of the characters therein, and really focusing on what is at the heart of our show: family dynamics and family relationships. We deal with the questions of identity that have come up as a result of one generation being more successful than another, and still being responsible for passing on morals and values and those kinds of things to the next generation.
DS: Essentially the DNA of what culture is, right?
DS: It’s interesting that black-ish airs during a time when racial issues and tensions are more scrutinized than ever. There are the events in Ferguson; the Eric Garner case. In interviews with executives and yourself there is consistent emphasis on the family, culture and to an extent class.
LF: Right, right.
DS: That shifting of the conversation to where this isn’t just about race, it’s a lot more dynamic of a stew – is that something that drew you to the show and made you want to become involved?
LF: Well I think it was something that we’ve all been living. Kenya Barris, our writer creator, Larry Wilmore, our show runner; myself, Anthony Anderson, Bryan Dobson … we’ve all enjoyed – and worked very hard for – our success. We all have children in our lives who are by and large children of privilege, in a different way that we ourselves were children of privilege.
We were children of privilege based on the fact that we were born in a time when the civil rights battle was in full swing and laws were being changed. Now those laws are in place, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all the attitudes have changed, as we see now from all the things that are going on presently in respect to racial relations in our country.
So we are now poised to have an open conversation about these things that are quite uncomfortable … but have been empirical elements of our society that are visible, that are real, that are active. Hopefully that will have an effect.
DS: I see the show as a lens.
LF: Exactly. I like to say what we’re doing is showing America itself through a black-ish lens. What they would have called 50 years – what did they call us then? The Negro Question (laughs). This is the evolution of the Negro Question.
DS: (laughs) I didn’t think about it like that. In my household, we’ve had a lot of conversations about what we want to pass on, and what we want to hold back – as Americans, as Black folks, and as human beings. We discussed elements of the show and ask, ‘what do you think about this? Or what do you think about rites of passage?’ You had the scene where Pops made the observation, ‘we’re not African, we’re black.’ It will be interesting to see how audiences deal with all of these nuances, right?
LF: That’s right, it’ll be very interesting. We’re all trying to figure this out, there’s no real road map. Folks have been dealing with this since the inception of our country. The all-American dream is to try and do better, each generation; that’s the directive. But what does that mean? There are always things that are pretty unchangeable for human beings, so we as human beings must obey the laws of gravity, if you will. What goes up must come down.
At the same time we are all striving for a better life so that our children have better opportunities and they can do better than we did – and their children, and so forth. Those things remain constant and unchangeable. Here we are in the digital age – what’s the world going to look like 30 years from now when our children are grown and having their own children? How do we prepare them for that because it’s an unknown?
DS: It’s no small coincidence that this is the 30th year since The Cosby Show‘s release. I certainly hope black-ish holds an equally cherished place 30 years from now. Do you draw any comparisons between the two shows, or hope to emulate it in any way?
LF: Certainly without The Cosby Show there would be no black-ish. You have to give the nod to the Cos. The man is pure genius, incredibly hardworking and very thoughtful. That’s why that show was so successful. There was a lot of thought that went into all of those episodes, the incredible cast – and there was an honesty I think, too.
That’s what Kenya Barris has continued to say about our mission. If we can be honest about the things that we’re talking about, the issues that we raise, and be honest in our portrayal of these characters I think that’s what people will respond to.
DaVaun Sanders is an indy author of SFF who drops cultural commentary when he’s not wandering through his own made up worlds. Follow him on Twitter @davaunwrites.