On Day 1 of ABC’s Virtu-Fall Presentations, Black-ish stars Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross and Laurence Fishburne joined creator Kenya Barris and showrunner Courtney Lilly to tease an upcoming, hour-long special, which will air ahead of the show’s Season 7 premiere.
At the beginning of the panel, the cast and EPs addressed the fact that Black-ish Season 7 was initially scheduled to air mid-season, before being bumped up to Wednesday, October 21.
“Collectively, I think we all felt the show, in years past, has been an amplifier of things to talk about in society, and we felt, at this time in particular, that the show would be unusually but importantly necessary,” Barris said. “We felt we needed to share our opinion with ABC, and we appreciate that they allowed us to have a voice right now, with what’s going on in society.
“To be fair and speak to Karey Burke’s leadership, the choice to have Black-ish off the schedule was made before whatever has happened [in the world]. It had a lot to do with preexisting things that were commitments before, in terms of scheduling,” the series creator added. “I think one of the great signs of a leader is being able to leave a conversation differently than you entered it, and I really appreciate and honor her team for allowing that to be done.”
During the presser, one journalist inquired, as to the inspiration behind the hour-long special, which will air Sunday, October 4. Comprised of back-to-back episodes—one in animation, and one in live-action—the standalone television event will follow the Johnson family as they grapple with the 2020 presidential election.
The initial idea for the half-animated special came to Barris via producer-star Ross. “The animation idea came out of my desire to stay safe during COVID,” the actress said. “I thought, we do such wonderful animation [already]. I was not ready, and terrified to go back to work and get back on set. Then, it went into what we always do on the show so beautifully with animation.”
Ultimately, the hour-long episode would look to tide over Black-ish fans until the show could return for another full season, also giving the show a voice during a critical time in American politics. “The special was a happy accident because we were trying to figure out how to still have a presence, especially in an election year,” Barris said. “We wanted to make sure the show had a presence at this time, and [could] rally people to the polls.”
Both “Election Special” episodes were directed by recent Oscar winner Matthew Cherry, who was praised by all during today’s event. “Working with Matthew Cherry is like working with Captain America, and we’re the Avengers,” Fishburne said, “so the special Is going to blow people’s minds, largely because of his direction.”
Among other major topics covered today was “Please, Baby, Please”—an episode of Black-ish which was originally scheduled to air in February of 2018, but was pulled by the network over “creative differences.” Criticizing the Trump administration and the current state of America, the episode finally became available on Hulu just last month.
“There’s a lot that went into [the decision to air it] that I really think is a tribute to all of the ABC family. We have definitely grown to be a family over the years,” Barris said. “We always hoped we’d see ‘Please, Baby, Please.’ They were very, very receptive, as an organization, to hearing our voices, and this was more of a situation of, the timing was right.”
Added Ross: “I think it coming out now spoke to the depth and magnitude of what you did then, and amplified it, in the time that we are in.”
Also up for discussion was the latest Black-ish spin-off Old-ish, starring Fishburne and Jenifer Lewis. “Laurence and I had talked about this many times, in different iterations, and it was finding a way in and figuring out what we wanted to say,” Barris said, of developing the show. “The idea that Courtney beautifully wove into Black-ish was, everyone wanted to see Pops and Ruby be together, because they’re basically together anyway. It’s the weirdest divorce I’ve ever seen.”
Executive produced by Anderson and Fishburne, Black-ish centers on Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson (Anderson) and his wife, Rainbow (Ross), an African-American couple struggling to imbue their kids with a sense of cultural identity, while raising them in a mostly-white, upper-class neighborhood.
As made clear in a promo for Season 7, Black-ish will continue breaking down current events from the perspective of the Johnsons, tackling such topics as the coronavirus pandemic, essential workers, voting, systemic racism and the movement for social justice and equality.
Also airing for the press was a video, in which cast members posed for a new Johnson family portrait—a piece of key art, created by esteemed American author and artist Kadir Nelson.
The recipient of multiple Caldecott Honors, Coretta Scott King Author and Illustrator Awards, New York Times Best Illustrated Book Awards, NAACP Image Awards and an Olympic Art Bronze medal, among other accolades, Nelson is known for his focus on historical narratives, and heroic figures within American culture.
“I’m thrilled and honored to have been asked to create the key art for Black-ish on ABC,” Nelson said in an ABC press release. “I’m a fan of the show, and it’s especially pleasing to have met and worked with the cast and creatives.
“I feel that art’s highest function is that of a mirror that reflects the beauty of the human spirit,” the artist adds. “I aim to create expressive and emotionally resonant paintings that connect with viewers from all walks of life.”
Also starring Lewis, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown, Marsai Martin, Deon Cole, Jeff Meacham and Peter Mackenzie, Black-ish was nominated for four Emmys this year, claiming the award for Outstanding Contemporary Hairstyling. The hourlong Black-ish special is scheduled to air this Sunday at 10 p.m. EDT, though the air date could change, depending on the schedule of the NBA Finals.