Review: #blackAF, Netflix

Review: Black AF, Netflix

#blackAF is the newest series from Kenya Barris, creator of Emmy-nominated Black-ish (and spin-offs Grown-ish and Mixed-ish). In #blackAF Barris stars as himself, and is the subject of his fictional daughter Drea's (Iman Benson) film school application: a documentary about life in the Barris family.

Starring mockumentary veteran Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) as Joya, Kenya’s fictional wife, #blackAF is a family sitcom. But what sets it apart most notably from any predecessors is the unlikability of the characters, particularly the parents. In an attempt at satirising his own life, Barris hones in on his harshness as a dad. In a cameo appearance Tyler Perry is shocked at the lack of respect between dad Kenya and daughter Drea. The family, apart from the baby, are all mean to each other in a deeply relatable way which is addictive to watch.

Though starring some excellent child comedy actors (particularly Justin Claiborne as Pops, "the oversensitive one") #blackAF hits the right notes when Joya and Kenya reflect honestly on their successes and, perhaps more often, failures of raising six children, and more specifically raising rich, black children in America.

The mockumentary format doesn’t always play. Drea notes at the top that miserable Kenya wants to spend all his money before he dies, thus conveniently explaining the high budget for her film school submission. But, the constant reminders of why Drea is documenting the Barris family repeatedly get in the way of much of the humour they offer. 

There is a tradition of pedagogy in Barris’ work and in #blackAF it is not only Kenya and Joya teaching their children, an going debate over the parents’ outdated use of the word ‘thot’ highlights the intergenerational education in this family. And the learning isn’t just limited to the family either. The otherwise clunky college submission format does lend to Drea interpolating some of the more historical concepts to us. We receive 101’s in Juneteenth, the prison industrial complex and adultification of black children and more. These lessons don’t bore, they unpack the shorthands used among the family. Barris provides the history alongside a great soundtrack and a plethora of cultural references including a brilliant parody Menace II Society but in his version Kenya interrogates his sons on when they last washed.  

If you like the wit with which Issa Rae (who also makes a cameo) explores black life in Insecure (set in a whole different side of LA) you might like the same explorations here. If you liked Black-ish, you’ll probably appreciate this but might have a sense of deja vu. Despite the awkward mockumentary format #blackAF is a juicy insight into Kenya Barris’ cynical world. 

#blackAF is on Netflix now.

Picture: Netflix

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