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‘Why Is It That We Turn on Ourselves?’: Kenya Barris Addresses ‘Brown-ish’ Backlash and Why He Left His $100 Million Netflix Deal

Kenya Barris is aware of the conversations surrounding ‘Brown-ish’ and his Netflix departure and is clearing the air.

In May, Deadline reported that Barris was eyeing the addition of another “-ish” sitcom to his repertoire, “Brown-ish,” this time centering around a modern-day Latinx family. Eva Longoria was tied to the project as a potential collaborator, however, fans were immediately turned off by the working title and blasted Barris online. Barris noted that ‘Brown-ish’ was never going to be the show’s actual name.

Kenya Barris is betting on himself. @kenyabarris/Instagram

“It was never going to be called ‘Brown-ish’, but even if it was, why is it that we turn on ourselves?” he told THR. “It immediately becomes, ‘Oh, he’s doing another family comedy.’ It’s like, yeah, I’m going to do 20 family comedies — no one questioned Norman Lear,” he said referring to the creator of “Good Times,” “The Jeffersons,” Sanford and Son,” “The Facts of Life,” and more classic “70s and ’80s TV shows.

The Hollywood boss got the internet talking again when word spread that he’d decided to bow out of his $100 million production deal with Netflix and instead set his sights on a new TV home, BET Studios. The 2020 racial injustice protests that took place across the United States and the world in response to the unjust killings of Black people at the hands of police were what initially caused Barris to question how he could use his influence to make a bigger impact within the Black community.

“I need to speak to my people,” Barris told his agent, Joe Cohen of CAA. “I need to be part of the conversation in a different way — and I’m not trying to be some type of civil rights hero here, but I do think it’s my job to take this moment that I have and open up doors for others.”

Netflix deciding to pass on Barris’ pitch to adapt the racially centered New York Times bestseller “New People,” written by Danzy Senna, played a role in his decision to take a meeting with BET president Scott Mills. Although he’d previously felt BET “was always like secondhand embarrassment,” now he’s curious about what he can do to help elevate the brand.

After a Zoom meeting with Mills and his boss, president of Premium Content Group of ViacomCBS Domestic Media Networks and Chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks David Nevins, the “Girls Trip” writer ended up receiving an offer to partner and lead a Black-owned studio, BET Studios. “I was like, ‘What the f**k is happening?'” Barris remarked. “It was not the conversation I expected to have in any way, shape or form, but I said, ‘The short answer is yes.’ “

While he’s committed to putting in five years of hard work with the studios, which he describes as “a modern-day United Artists,” before slowing it down a bit around 50, Barris is well aware that he may not immediately reap the benefits of the seeds he’ll be sewing. “But maybe I set it up where 15 years from now it’s worth something,” he said. “Maybe I lay the groundwork and fight the fights so it becomes something that one day we can all share in.”

The “Black-ish” creator is already hard at work building his empire, from signing on writers “who were number twos on big shows or number ones on smaller ones,” to planning to sell their content to markets within the ViacomCBS portfolio and beyond.

In the meantime, Barris is still working on churning out his next batch of Netflix projects before solely focusing on the studio. Fans can look forward to a “#blackAF” film franchise, two documentaries, and an adult animated series, “Entergalactic,” that he’s developing with Kid Cudi.

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