With roles in TV comedies and dramas that range from The Bernie Mac Show and All About the Andersons to K-Ville, The Shield and Law & Order, Anthony Anderson is no newcomer to the primetime rodeo.
But his latest series, Black-ish (Wednesdays, 9:30/8:30c on ABC), may be his best yet, a contemporary Cosby that’s both funny and full of incisive social commentary.
Anderson plays Andre Johnson, a successful advertising exec with roots in the ‘hood, a wife, four kids and a dilemma: his upward mobility means they’re living the dream. But has assimilation cost them their black identity? The situation rings true because it’s taken from Anderson’s own life, as he explained in a recent conversation.
“We can heal one another through laughter. And we can also get a message across, no matter how controversial it may be. We can laugh at and with one another and have a conversation.”
The show is a case of art imitating life, isn’t it?
Yeah, not only mine, though. We pull from all our lives; we’re going to tell authentic stories. My kids’ black experience is different than the one I had growing up. My son has been in this elite private school since he was 4. The majority of students in the school are not black. It’s a privileged existence. That’s the reality in which our children live.
Growing up in the hood, Compton, California, I knew what black and white was—I saw color. My son and daughter don’t know color. They just see their friends, regardless of what race or religion they are. All the stories in the show came out of conversations we’ve had, our truths and our stories. My daughter dated a boy that was Latino. My son is fourteen and for his thirteenth birthday he said, “Dad, I want a bar mitzvah.” I told him, “That’s not our culture, that’s not who we are. But I will throw you a hip-hop bro mitzvah.” To this day, all of his Jewish friends say that was the best bar mitzvah they’ve been to.
A few years ago, primetime wouldn’t have been ready for Black-ish. What’s different now?
It goes to show how society is changing, how the world is changing. Seven years ago who would have thought we’d have our first African-American president? Society is evolving and becoming more accepting. That’s what makes society black-ish. Look at everything that’s borrowed from African American culture in terms of dance, language, style, music and food, with [non-blacks] embracing it as their own.
Is anything off limits?
[ABC Entertainment President] Paul Lee gave us the go-ahead to do whatever we want to do. He expects us to push the envelope. But our show isn’t about controversy. We’re not trying to be controversial. It’s a family show that happens to be told through the eyes of an African-American family. The issues that we’re going to deal with are family issues, universal issues. This is a man who is first-generation successful who’s trying to give his children a better life than he had, and I think that resonates with everyone.
You’ve done both comedy and drama—do you have a preference?
Comedy. We can heal one another through laughter. And we can also get a message across through laughter, no matter how controversial it may be. We can laugh at and with one another and have a conversation about it.
What are you proudest of, professionally and personally?
I’m proud of what we’re doing with Black-ish because of the dialogue that it’s creating and being able to tell these stories and show a black family on television loving one another. Personally, being a dad and raising children to be responsible adults. My daughter’s 18, and a young woman now. I’ve always talked to my children about choices and consequences and we’ve given her the tools to be the best that she can be. I can’t wait to hang with my children as adults. I’m really looking forward to that.