Post Mortems

grown-ish's Yara Shahidi Explains Why New Cast Members' Dark Skin Matters

Ryan Destiny and Raigan Harris

The following contains spoilers from the grown-ish Season 3B premiere. Read at your own risk.

The “will they or won’t they” question between Zoey (Yara Shahidi) and Aaron (Trevor Jackson) received an answer this Thursday night on Freeform’s grown-ish.In a word, they won’t — at least not anytime soon. But what is even more significant than the fact that Aaron moved on and settled down with a new boo in the Season 3B premiere is that his girlfriend, Rochelle, is darker skinned.

Rochelle’s portrayer, Raigan Harris (whose previous credits include Arrow‘s spinoff pilot and All American), is one of two chocolate-hued women the black-ish spinoff has added as a recurring cast member, after years of colorism accusations from some fans. The other actress, Ryan Destiny (Star), joined the show at the top of Season 3 and plays Jillian, an HBCU transfer who is studying filmmaking at the fictional Cal U.

Shahidi, who is now an executive producer on grown-ish, says the addition of Destiny and Harris quietly but deliberately shows a broader and more inclusive spectrum of Blackness.

“It’s always been important to us,” Shahidi tells TVLine. “In all honesty, this is a conversation we’ve had since Season 1. It’s extremely important and is a conversation I’m about to have again next week. It’s unfortunate that it is something that is seen as an extra conversation, but I’m grateful that I get to work with a team that is receptive.”

Season 1 of grown-ish featured an episode about colorism and Black men who only date lighter-skinned women and those outside of their race. But, in some ways, that same installment only spotlighted the single-camera comedy’s lack of darker-skin actresses.

“The amount of times in which we want to be able to say, ‘We know this to be true in our personal families – within one family we range the span of brown – and we want to be reflective of that,’ is endless,” Shahidi says, adding that the effort to include more diverse shades is a teachable moment for Black and non-Black people in positions of power. “The way in which the grown-ish family has expanded has been really beautiful.”

“We know that we will never cover the total experience nor represent everyone,” says the biracial Shahidi, whose Black mother, Keri Shahidi, is darker-skinned. “No show should be everything to everybody. But, at the very least, it is important to be able to say, ‘What opportunities do we have to continue to expand what we’re used to seeing on-screen?’ Instead of falling into things that are systemically automated, it’s been important to figure out how to disrupt this automation. Because it is unfair.”

Since the beginning, grown-ish has tried to be culturally inclusive. The cast features two Black women — real-life siblings Chloe and Halle Bailey — with natural locs and the Cuban-American character Ana Torres (played by Mexican-and-Honduran actress Francia Raisa).

“It’s important for us to see proper representation in all forms and all colors,” says Chloe Bailey, who co-stars as Jazz, one of the comedy’s track-running twins. (Halle Bailey plays Sky.) “And I’m happy that the show represents different types of Black women, Latino women, white women and women of all types and shows how much we get together and we appreciate and love one another and respect each other. That’s really important nowadays.”

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