Kenya Barris accepted the Visionary Award at the Producers Guild Award on Saturday night, but in his evocative comments from the stage it was clear that the forward-looking native of Inglewood, CA., still has a good view of his past.
The Black-ish creator said his background — “a kid in the ‘hood” with asthma and limited opportunities — could have capped his ambitions in life and perhaps did just that for a time. “My dream stopped at ‘good job at the Post Office.’” That changed, according to Barris, due in part to the friendship, support and example of Norman Lear, the television icon who presented the prize to Barris.
“That’s my boy right there,” the emotional Barris said with a proud nod toward Lear. Lear’s buoyant persona seemed to hover over much of the night’s proceedings; the All in the Family and Good Times creator was mentioned in reverent stage remarks by Regina King, Peter Farrelly, Amy Sherman-Palladino and others.
For Barris, the success of the ABC hit Black-ish — now north of 100 episodes — has opened up a lifestyle and opportunities that seemed impossible to imagine in his youth. He added that the surge of inclusion and representation in Hollywood has changed many things but that the inroads still are relatively limited. Success allowed him to splurge and take the whole family to see Hamilton, but once they reached their seats they played a bittersweet game called “count the black people” in the audience.
“There wasn’t,” he noted, “all that many.”
The Producers Guild Visionary Award recognizes television, film, or new media producers for inspiring storytelling of unique and uplifting vision or quality to our culture. Barris created the aforementioned Black-ish which received a Peabody Award and numerous Emmy nominations. He also created the spin-off Grown-ish. On the film side of things, Barris co-wrote the comedy blockbuster Girls Trip with Tracy Oliver. The film went on to become the first comedy of 2017 to cross $100 million domestically.