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Is BlackAF Based on a True Story?

April 17, 2020
4 min read

Netflix’s ‘BlackAF’ is a mockumentary style family drama created by Kenya Barris, who has previously won hearts with the hit-series, ‘Black-ish’. In the show, we find Barris and his family in an unfiltered form. Every episode focuses on the problems and dilemmas they have to face as black people. Drawing comparisons with how history has treated them, he justifies his actions in the present. Most of the time, it is all because of slavery.

One of the reasons that ‘BlackAF’ succeeds in winning hearts is because of how relatable it is. The same thing happens with Barris’ other shows as well, but with this one, he puts himself forward. His on-screen alter-ego shares his name and his CV. This makes us wonder how close is the show-Barris to the real-Barris. Is ‘BlackAF’ entirely based on Kenya Barris’ life? Let’s find out.

Is Black AF Based on a True Story?

No, ‘BlackAF’ is not based on a true story. The family shown in the series is not real. The show has been created by Kenya Barris and is loosely inspired by his experiences in life, especially with parenting. The show takes a semi-autobiographical approach where Barris has tried to project his life onto the screen, but with some changes.

While Barris created the character in his own image, he didn’t initially intend to play it himself. He had thought about casting another actor to play the part, but then, he changed his mind after Larry David’s approach with ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ inspired him to cross that barrier. Playing himself was something that he was afraid of, and found that the best way to kill this fear is to face it.

One of the challenges that come with re-creating your persona with the traits different from your own is to find the footing of how far to take the fiction from reality. With semi-autobiographical shows, one needs to figure out where to draw the line. There is also the chance of the audience mistaking your on-screen personality for how you really are. But Barris tried to moderate that as well. “You take aggregates and archetypes of people you know and make them part of your characters. You try to tell the most honest version of your story,” he said, in an interview with Vanity Fair.

Barris did not hesitate to copy-paste some events right out of his life. For instance, in the first episode, there is a scene at the valet where his lavish car, as compared to the one that his colleague has, makes Barris uncomfortable. A similar thing had happened to him with Jeffrey Katzenberg. The only thing going on in Barris’ mind, at that point, was how he would be judged for such a thing. “In my mind, all I heard was, ‘Hey, look at the black guy spending all his money on a car!’ I wanted to take it and burn it up in the middle of fucking Fairfax,” he said. “If I pull up in a shitty car, I’m a black dude in a shitty car. If I pull up in this car, I’m just a black dude who spent all this money on a car.”

Because his own life heavily inspires the story, his on-screen marriage, too, draws from his real-life marriage. In 2019, he ended his two-decade-long marriage with Rainbow Barris, who also served as the inspiration for Tracee Ellis Ross’ character on Black-ish. Is the rockiness between Kenya and Joya a reflection of that? Somewhat. However, this does not mean that things will end the same for the on-screen couple. “I wanted to leave it open,” Barris said, “that maybe they will divorce, maybe they won’t. I wanted to make it as fluid as a real relationship and a real family is.”

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