(UPDATED WITH LINK TO COURT FILING) Just two days after inking an overall feature films deal at 20th Century Fox, Black-ish creator Kenya Barris was hit with a more than $1M lawsuit today claiming he ripped off the idea for the hit ABC comedy.
“Plaintiff is informed and believes that at some point between the end of 2006 and September 2014, Defendant Barris – using Plaintiff’s idea for the Original Untitled Script – wrote, developed and shopped the pilot episode for Black-ish without Plaintiff’s knowledge or authorization,” alleges music video director and Idlewild helmer Bryan Barber in the breach of contract and fraud jury-trial-seeking complaint (read it here) filed in L.A. Superior Court on Friday. “Indeed, Defendant Barris intentionally concealed these facts from Plaintiff. The pilot episode for Black-ish was predicated in all material respects on Plaintiff’s idea and/or the Original Untitled Script.”
Essentially Barber claims that the never produced script based on his life that he and fellow Clark Atlanta University and supposed old pal Barris co-wrote for VH-1 back in the last decade was “hijacked” and slightly retooled into the September 24, 2014 debuting series staring Anthony Anderson. Reps for Barris did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit over the September 21 returning show.
Here’s where this gets interesting – unlike a lot of plaintiffs in such suits, Barber is a legit director with legit credits like the 2006 Idlewild film and he does lay out a timeline suggesting he and Barris were connected at one point.
“The Original Untitled Script was premised on Plaintiff’s idea for a television show about the black experience as seen through the lens of a successful, creative and affluent black man working in the predominantly white entertainment industry,” says the 18-page complaint naming Barris, Black-ish EP Larry Wilmore’s Wilmore Films, Principato-Young Entertainment and Cinema Gypsy Productions as defendants. The filing cites a number of similarities between the initial project and Black-ish such as the primary character’s wife being named “Rainbow” and being called “Bow” often by others, and more seeming commonalities of plot and intent. “Both works conclude with the protagonist overcoming challenges with race relations, adapting to his professional environment, and coming to terms with his ‘blackish-ness,'” asserts the complaint.
Of course, the fact that Barris’ real life wife is named Rainbow or the fact that the America’s Next Top Model co-creator has long said that the show is based on his life is not mentioned in Barber’s suit.
The action is pursuing not just money in damages but also a full accounting, creator and writer credit and compensation on the Emmy nominated Black-ish plus a piece of “all derivative, ancillary and merchandising rights and interests.”
Kenneth Ingber, Karol Ingber and Benson Lau of Agoura Hills firm Ingber & Associates plus Woodland Hills’ Miles Carlsen are representing OutKast and The Game video director Barber in the intentional or not very Emmy 2016 timed action.