Kenya Barris, who created the sitcom Black-ish, explains that he walked away from his $100 million deal with Netflix due to creative differences.
Black-ish creator Kenya Barris explains why he walked away from his $1oo million deal with Netflix. Barris is best known as the mastermind behind the acclaimed ABC sitcom, which spawned the spinoffs Grown-ish and Mixed-ish. He also recently co-wrote the screenplay for the Eddie Murphy sequel Coming 2 America.
Barris made headlines in August 2018 when he departed his overall deal with ABC Studios for an agreement to produce content exclusively for Netflix. Joining the ranks of Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes, who had also signed with the streaming platform, served as an indication that Netflix was ramping up efforts to create its own hits by recruiting top talent. During his time at the streamer, Barris created and starred in #blackAF, a comedy series also starring Rashida Jones. However, in October 2020, it was reported that Barris was eying an exit from Netflix to partner with ViacomCBS on a new venture. The venture would focus on creating a new studio, which Barris would co-own. In a new interview, Barris reflects on his career and shed some light on his difficulties with Netflix.
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As part of a cover story for THR, the Black-ish creator opened up about why he walked away from his deal with Netflix. Barris references differences of opinion on which types of projects Netflix believed he should be working on. While he does stress that he is grateful for his experience working with the streamer, Barris also makes it clear it wasn’t the best environment for him creatively. Barris says in part:
I just don’t know that my voice is Netflix’s voice. The stuff I want to do is a little bit more edgy, a little more highbrow, a little more heady, and I think Netflix wants down the middle. Netflix became CBS.
There were a number of issues, specifically, that Barris further addresses in his remarks. He notes that while #blackAF got decent viewership, he often struggled to come up with the kind of ideas that would appeal to Netflix. It’s also mentioned that there was an attempt to have Barris serve as the showrunner for one of the streaming service’s multi-cam sitcoms, reportedly the Jamie Foxx series Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!, though he declined. Another disagreement emerged when Barris pushed for an adaptation of Danny Senna’s novel New People, which centered around ideas of racial identity and passing. The idea was ultimately considered after an initial rejection, although Barris felt that the streamer was merely chasing a topic that had gained prominence rather than being ahead of the curve. Barris’ comments signify that his overall vision was incompatible with what Netflix hoped he would produce.
Barris will continue to work on the projects that were in development at Netflix prior to the finalization of his exit. Those projects include a new take on Meet The Parents, which was co-written by Jonah Hill. It also includes a continuation of #blackAF. As opposed to season 2, however, the continuation will take the form of standalone vacation movies.
Overall, it seems Barris’ creative desires will be better fulfilled by his new venture. On the whole, the recollections of the Black-ish creator speak to how Netflix has changed as it has grown into a global streaming service. Even though it may still approve riskier stories on the margins, these new revelations illustrate the degree to which the streamer has shifted to emulate the output of traditional television networks and movie studios. In attempting to appeal to the broadest possible audience, Netflix has also suffered some losses.
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