Casting Chris Brown as a controversial musician in black-ish‘s third season seemed like a natural fit, series creator Kenya Barris tells TVLine, but some of the reactions the episode garnered “saddened” the executive producer.
Brown played Rich Youngsta in a March installment that found Dre collaborating with the fictional rapper on an ad campaign that played heavily on black stereotypes. After some pushback from Ruby and Bow, and after watching Jack engage in some of Rich Youngsta’s less-than-ideal behavior, Dre revamped the ad.
“We wanted someone to play a troubled music star, which he was,” Barris says, adding that the show was unaware that Brown’s ex-girlfriend Karrueche Tran (Claws) filed a restraining order against the singer in February, claiming that he had pushed her down stairs and threatened to kill her.
“It had been 10 years since the Rihanna incident, which happened when he was a kid, basically, 19 years old,” Barris says. “I saw him out, and he was very contrite and wanted to do something. I felt like, let’s do that.”
Reviews of the episode were mixed, with many entertainment publications — including TVLine — taking black-ish and ABC to task for giving Brown yet another gig despite his history of violence, misogyny and homophobia.”The thing I felt most bothered by, by sites and by reviews, is that we are beyond conscious of what we do on that show. We are very, very aware, very much so trying to hold ourselves to a really high standard,” Barris says. “And I felt the response was like, ‘Gotcha!'”
He continues: “The sad part about it is, the point behind that particular episode was fantastic. And it was completely missed… It really saddened me.”
The executive producer refers to the episode’s discussion of media representation via Stepin Fetchit, a black actor who achieved great success in the 1930s, but did so by portraying characters who were stereotypically lazy and unintelligent.
“If Adam Sandler does a bad movie, he doesn’t bring down the whole white race. But if Tyler Perry does, it’s like, ‘See what you guys do?’ and that type of thing,” Barris says. “It made a really great point, and I feel like because of the controversy that people chose to dig into Chris Brown, something that people really could’ve gotten something from — and a really good episode of television, I believe — were missed.”