The ABC show black-ish has been a staple of the ABC block and has already delivered one spin-off series on its sister-channel, Freeform, with grown-ish, and now the trailer for its second spin-off, mixed-ish, is out. mixed-ish will follow black-ish‘s Rainbow Johnson in her youth, and it has some very odd casting choices.
“In “mixed-ish,” Rainbow Johnson recounts her experience growing up in a mixed-race family in the ‘80s and the constant dilemmas they had to face over whether to assimilate or stay true to themselves. Bow’s parents Paul and Alicia decide to move from a hippie commune to the suburbs to better provide for their family. As her parents struggle with the challenges of their new life, Bow and her siblings navigate a mainstream school in which they’re perceived as neither black nor white. This family’s experiences illuminate the challenges of finding one’s own identity when the rest of the world can’t decide where you belong.”
The show will star Arica Himmel as Bow Johnson, Tika Sumpter as Alicia Johnson, Gary Cole as Harrison Johnson, Christina Anthony as Denise, Mykal-Michelle Harris as Santamonica Johnson and Ethan Childress as Johan Johnson.
On the surface, I’m excited for another Black-led television series and one that will explore another aspect of Black identity. At the same time, black-ish has never truly hit the mark when it comes to dealing with issues of colorism, and just looking at the casting choices sort of reinforces those aspects.
Arica Himmel is spot on for a young Tracee Ellis Ross, but I question Mykal-Michelle Harris and Ethan Childress because they are supposed to be playing a young Rashida Jones and Daveed Diggs, and neither of those actors are as white-passing as Harris and Childress. I could understand an argument for Jones, but not at all for Diggs.
Then there is the issue of Alicia Johnson now being played the dark-skinned Tika Sumpter when was previously depicted by the much lighter-skinned actress Anna Deavere Smith.
— Nicole Theodore Esq. (@BizLawyerATL) May 15, 2019
People are calling it a “Reverse Aunt Viv”, referring to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, when the show fired the original actress who played Aunt Viv (Janet Hubert) and replaced her with a lighter-skinned actress who was written much more passively than her darker counterpart. This kind of casting issue has also happened on shows like Family Matters and My Wife and Kids.
One the one hand, it can be seen as an improvement, because we now have a darker-skinned woman in a lead role, but with a show that is all about Black identity, having Bow go from the daughter of a light-skinned, almost white-passing woman, to a dark-skinned woman would be such a different experience.
I’m not saying that mixed-ish won’t tackle these issues, but this franchise has never really been good about handling colorism—mostly because darker-skinned people are usually not around. Sumpter being cast means those conversations could start now, but it doesn’t make sense when Bow has made some truly ignorant comments about colorism that will seem more off the mark now that we are supposed to believe she grew up with a darker mother.
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