How the ‘Black-ish’ cast made an impact in Hollywood
"We never in eight seasons reached the limits of anybody's abilities," series showrunner Courtney Lily told theGrio
Black-ish is coming to a close, and ahead of the series finale, theGrio is examining its stars and how the show helped re-establish, introduce and launch each cast member into superstardom while evolving into one of the most successful casts in TV history.
After eight impactful seasons, Black-ish is airing its final episode on ABC.
We broke down our top five Black-ish episodes earlier this week, now we’re now taking a deep dive into the show’s star-studded cast.
On an upcoming episode of theGrio‘s Acting Up podcast, our Cortney Wills sat down with black-ish showrunner Courtney Lily to discuss the show’s impact and how its cast made it special.
“The beginning was a really solid foundation,” Lily explained. “You had, you know, Anthony Anderson and Laurence Fishburne and the discovery of Marcus Scribner. So the show started off with this real kind of like intergenerational men thing.”
Tracee Ellis Ross joined the sitcom as Rainbow after years on Girlfriends. Her chemistry with Anderson helped the show find its tone.
“You had another avenue to explore story-wise, you know, so it could be more than just a sitcom about these guys,” Lily said. “It could be a sitcom that also deals with a loving family and a relationship between a husband and a wife.”
The final piece of the puzzle was the child actors, who proved to be seemingly limitless treasure troves for the writers. Sometimes with young actors, Lilly explained, you get to a point where you, “reach the limits” of their abilities.
“We never in eight seasons reached the limits of anybody’s abilities,” he explained. “Without all of those things working in conjunction, you know, and as writers, it just allows us to be as creative as we want to be because we’re not trying to avoid anybody.”
Let’s start with Shahidi, who rose to stardom over the eight seasons of the show. Long before she got her own spin-off, it was clear Shahidi was a new kind of child star in the way she used the platform given to her. Just two years after the premiere of Black-ish, Shahidi was listed as one of TIME’s Most influential Teens of 2016 for her activism, advocating for representation in Hollywood.
She didn’t stop there. Shahidi also used her influence to launch Eighteen x 18 with NowThis in 2018. The initiative encouraged young voters to register for the 2018 midterm elections. Shahidi has continued to use her social media platforms (she has amassed 7 million Instagram followers) to engage in political and cultural conversations.
Shahidi was the first character to get the spin-off treatment. She stars in Grown-ish on Freeform, which was built around her character, Zoey, going off to college. The series has become a success in its own right, currently gearing up for its fifth season after Black-ish ends. No matter how long Grown-ish lasts, with Shahidi tapped to play Tinker Bell in an upcoming Disney adaptation of Peter Pan, it’s clear she’s just getting started.
Scribner, who played Andre Johnson Jr. on the series, has also become quite the young Hollywood star. In 2018, he nabbed a voice role in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, a popular series on Netflix, and in 2021 began voicing a role in Hulu’s DreamWorks Dragons: The Nine Realms.
Fans may be gearing up to say goodbye to Black-ish, but they already know it won’t be the last they’ll see of Scribner’s character. Earlier this year, it was announced that Scribner will join season 5 of Grown-ish as his character will attend Cal U, the same school Zoey attended.
Like Shahidi, Scribner has also used his fame to advocate for causes he feels passionate about. In December, he sat down with theGrio to discuss his NFT partnership with Kelly Blue Book. Proceeds from the partnership went to American Rivers, an organization that advocates for and protects rivers and river wildlife.
“I am trying to do the best I can using the platform that I have,” he told us at the time. “I think I learned that being on Black-ish and being around so many humanitarians and activists. Each week we try to provide episodes that deal with current world issues, and I use that to inform all of my decisions, even in the roles that I take.”
At just 17, Marsai Martin has broken records in the TV and film industry. Her casting as Diane on Black-ish was a breakthrough role, earning her three NAACP Image Award wins for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.
Like her co-stars, Black-ish was just the beginning. In 2019, Martin starred opposite Regina Hall and Issa Rae in Little, a film Martin developed and produced. With this film, produced by her own Genius Productions, Martin holds the record as the youngest Hollywood executive producer ever. She was only 14 when the film was released.
“To be able to create a film, to star in it and be with your favorite stars, and actually seeing that entire experience was so amazing,” Martin shared at the time. “It feels crazy, honestly. A world record? That’s insane.”
Miles Brown, who plays Jack in the series, has also carved out a major spot for himself in the industry, branching outside of Hollywood and into the world of music. In 2020, Brown dropped his debut album, We The Future, rapping about social justice, and like his costars, using his platform for good.
“It really started with Black-ish,” he told USA Today at the time. “And it’s me reaching out to kids and the youth. If you look at the cover, I’m expressing how we’re going to be the ones who will be in charge one day. I want to make sure we know what we’re doing and realize how much power and how much of an impact we’re going to have over time.” In 2019, Brown was named one Hollywood’s Top 30 Stars Under Age 18 by The Hollywood Reporter, alongside Martin.
The series finale of Black-ish airs April 19 on ABC.
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