Dear Culture

The Art of the Showrunner

Episode 41

With decades of experience in the business, executive producer and showrunner Anthony Sparks joins Dear Culture to talk about his pivotal role in some of Hollywood’s most popular TV shows including Queen Sugar and Bel-Air. He also talks his commitment to telling Black stories and the significance of representation in entertainment.   

LOS ANGELES, CA – FEBRUARY 14: Writer Anthony Sparks arrives at the 39th NAACP Image Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on February 14, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)


Panama Jackson [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified.

Panama Jackson [00:00:08] What’s going on, everybody? And welcome back to Dear Culture. I’m your host, Panama Jackson, and I’m excited to have this conversation today. One because I’ve had a conversation with this, with this multi-hyphenate brilliant, brilliant TV mind before, but also because we’re going to be talking about TV shows that I love. Representation, putting Blacks and Black stories front and center. Today’s guest is a multi-hyphenate, so he is a husband. He is a father. He has a Ph.D., He’s an executive producer. He’s a creator. He’s a writer. He’s a showrunner. He was in Stomp. He was in the play Stomp. He was out there getting it. In the famous words of Big Red from the Five Heartbeats “What do you don’t do?” Today’s guest. Ladies and gentlemen, this is none other than executive producer of Bel Air currently Anthony Sparks. How you doing, brother?

Anthony Sparks [00:01:08] I’m doing great, man. I’m doing real good because I’m sitting here chopping it up with you today. I always enjoy talking to you. Thank you for having me on. I appreciate it.

Panama Jackson [00:01:18] Man. It is my pleasure. Like, I’m excited to have you here. One, because I’m a big fan. It seems like everything that you work on. So and we’re going to talk about all of that stuff, like from Queen Sugar. I even like Lincoln Heights. I remember watching that show and, you know.

Anthony Sparks [00:01:35] That show, I swear.

Panama Jackson [00:01:37] Yeah. Back in the day. Back in the day. I seen the Black List, like so all these different things. I watched Mike on Hulu, which is, you know, the product of yours. Like you’ve done so much interesting like and it’s all different. You’ve done so much stuff that’s culturally resonate. And it’s just fascinating for because it’s all very Black, too. Like there’s a lot of representation in storytelling. And I got to tell you, I’m impressed by this because it doesn’t seem like everybody gets the opportunity to tell Black stories the way they seem to want to. Yeah. So, yeah, I got to start at the beginning here. Where does the Anthony Sparks story start in terms of entertainment and getting into entertainment? How did we get here?

Anthony Sparks [00:02:22] How did we get here? Well, you know, I’m a Southside kid from Chicago. Southside of Chicago. Visa v Mississippi, which is where my whole family is from. So that right there gives me my my, my Black tattooed is very high. You know, just from that, you know, Mississippi and South side of Chicago, which I affectionately call Southside Chicago, upper Mississippi, anyway. So it is a lot of us up there. And it’s I come from this family, this very large, expansive family. I have eight or nine brothers and sisters, depending on how you want to count it, you know, and and I just come from a lot of Black love. You know, we have our issues like everybody else, you know, in the community. But I just grew up just knowing that I was loved by Black people in my community. Teachers, you know, were huge for me. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for teachers who identified that, you know, hey, we got to help this all along from John Dee Shubert School in the hood back in Chicago and then middle and high school, which was a transformative experience. Whitney Young Magnet High School, which is the same school that Michelle Obama actually graduated from years before.

Panama Jackson [00:03:43] Very famous, very famous high school. I’ve heard I knew Whitney Young before I knew my Chicago to be real with you.

Anthony Sparks [00:03:50] Oh, wow. Okay. Yeah. I mean, it’s a special, special place. And it holds a special place in my heart. And what it did for me in terms of blowing open my world. And, you know, if I hadn’t gone to Whitney, there’s no way I would have had the nerve to jump on a plane and go someplace I’d never been, which was Los Angeles to go to USC School of Dramatic Arts. You know, I’d never even been to California. You know, when I came out here to go after my fortune, you know, at that time. So that’s how I was sort of began for me.

Panama Jackson [00:04:21] So were you in school plays and stuff like that?

Anthony Sparks [00:04:25] Absolutely. I was. I was that that nerd you hear the job of making fun of this is what he looks like when.

Panama Jackson [00:04:31] I was that guy, too. So I just got to be clear. I was that guy who I did all. I was the Black thesbian in my high school. I was that guy.

Anthony Sparks [00:04:38] Exactly. That’s well, that’s definitely where it started to take off and become something very serious for me. It actually started in the church. The Black church was where I actually started doing my first, you know, the Christmas pageant, the Easter pageant, you know. I remember asking you if I could recite the creation by James Weldon Johnson, you know, to the congregation. You know, didn’t understand half of it. But I just you know, that was my first solo show, actually, you know, from their high school, middle school and high school went to Whitney Young Magnet. And that was the place where I really got started getting exposed to a lot of plays and that I might not have read before and stuff like that. And thinking about like, am I going to take the risk to do this, you know, for the rest of my life or at least try to do it at that time? And that was it. That was a difficult decision because I you know, I could take a test. I did okay in school. I did well in school. And I could have done other things. You know, I could have gone to law school. Well, you know, I could have, you know, gone to business school. And I had people who were pushing in, encouraging me to do something safe as and instead I did this thing that was very, very subjective, which means people can like you stuff or they can not like it. Right. But my mom, God bless her, she was always supportive of whatever I wanted to do. And she said, As long as you really go after what you’re going to do and you educate yourself to the highest level that is available to you to do it, which for me was meant going to USC in the School of Dramatic Arts. As long as you do that, I will support you. And so I had a lot of emotional support. I grew up, you know, very working class, cult, as we used to call it sometimes, Right. But I was rich in emotional support.

Panama Jackson [00:06:37] So you’re you wanted to be an actor? Like that is that where you saw your your trajectory going? You were going to be just an actor full stop?

Anthony Sparks [00:06:45] Absolutely. No, I was always writing and I was actually it’s so funny how things work because when I think about. Like competitions and stuff that I would do in high school, I would usually win or place, you know, So I knew I could compete at a pretty early age in that in those arenas. But in retrospect, I would usually win first place in writing and second place in acting actually like NAACP Act-So, you know, that big program like I won first place in writing and second place and acting or dramatics, as they call it, you know. And so that was all that was already in the back of my head that I had this other skill set. But you have to understand, growing up in the early nineties and late eighties in South Side of Chicago, the idea of being a TV writer, a producer, like what is that? A showrunner? We didn’t even have that term then, you know, that wasn’t in the popular lexicon. You know, we know what that was. So the only way I could have gotten that, I think that I could have gotten to what I do now is I had to go through theater and acting because that’s what I knew. And I was good at it and I was committed to it. But when I came to USC in the theater school and started hanging around the film school, I started seeing, you know, fliers and stuff for like the Warner Brothers writing program and TV writer. What is that? Oh, those names mean something on the screen. That’s a job that somebody does. You know, that’s how it sort of started to sort of plant that seed. And then when I got to New York and I was acting on stage with Stomp and stuff like that, I was having a great time, a great career. But I was starting to feel some limitations for my growth as a young Black brother trying to do a certain type of material. I wasn’t trying to be robbing nobody on screen all the time. You know, whatever it was that was available was very limited. And so it became a very practical and a creative answer. I got to write myself into the narrative or I’m not going to be there very long.

Panama Jackson [00:08:46] I want to talk so much about that. That’s Yeah, Yeah. So we’re going to take a real quick break here and it will come back and talk more with Anthony Sparks about how he got started as a writer like, because that is the fast that is such a fascinating world and full rate to me. So I’m look for it. So stay tuned right here on Dear Culture. We’ll be right back. All right. We’re back here on Dear Culture and we’re talking with Anthony Sparks about his career journey. And he was just explain to us how he started acting and how he was exposed to the writing world and talking about writing yourself into the narrative. So I’m really fascinated by the idea of becoming a writer like I’m a writer, but you’re like a TV writer and like all of that stuff. So like, what was that? You talked a bit about how you realized that that might be another way to get in. So you had this talent that was there anyway, but you found limitations in acting. But how was it making the leap to decide, I’m going to start doing this and then it working?

Anthony Sparks [00:09:42] Yeah, I mean, you know, it’s funny when you read a person’s bio or whatever, you have to remember you’re getting the greatest hits, right? You get in. Yes. A compilation of the times that of the yes’s that added up. You know, a career can be made by, you know, one person or maybe the right five people saying, yes, there are a lot of no’s along the way. It didn’t always work out in such a linear way. But I have been blessed. I work hard, but I’ve been very fortunate, too, to have people who valued what they saw in me and poured into me. So. I’m in New York. I’m acting on stage every night. I’m performing in Stomp. I’m also doing Shakespeare, I’m doing voiceovers. I’m doing the whole I’m making a living as an actor for ten years. I started to feel like as I was trying to move into the film and TV space, the theater thing was happening, but the TV and film thing was not happening. I was having casting directors say crazy stuff to me and the woman who would go on to become and is still my wife, you know, who is also an actor. And she’s this chocolate sister who’s very trained and went to NYU, very talented, deeply, deeply talented. And we were just hearing crazy stuff like, You don’t exist, you’re talented, but you’re type. You don’t seem like you came from Chicago. What is know like that da da da da, yeah. Yeah. And these were white people telling me this a lot of the time. It was a real mind you know screw with your mind ahead a lot in your spirit eventually too, to have people who largely don’t look like you telling you that you don’t represent you.

Panama Jackson [00:11:20] Right.

Anthony Sparks [00:11:22] Okay. So then you go. But I come from a lot of people who look just like me and act just like me. I’m. I’m special. I’m that special. You know, a lot of brothers like me, you know, there’s Panama, me, you know, people I went to school with. So I realized after about five years of pounding the pavement and having some success in TV and film, getting commercials and all that other stuff. But most of my career being in theater, I went, Oh, if I’m going to stay in this space, I’m going to have to come at it another way because they’re not seeing me. They don’t think I exist. They straight up are telling me that. So I came across this book called The Showrunners in a bookstore one day in New York in the TV film section of Barnes and Noble. And it describe what a show runner did. And the name of the book was the Showrunners: The Real Stars of Television. Out of print now. But I got a couple of copies and I was like, This is what you should be doing. Like, if you can learn how to write, you can make a good living and you can also be adding to the cultural conversation. You can make it maybe a little easier for the Anthony Sparks ten years down the road to actually have a place to ply their trade, you know, as a performer. And then you. And then I was also I was in New York. It was a great time for me and being on the East Coast because I was just drinking in all of this culture about representation. And, you know, I was just getting, you know, deeply immersed in my Blackity Black, you know, whatever you want to call it. Right. Kind of process. And I came into TV with the idea that I was going to write myself and people like me into the narrative or try at least try. And that was the goal. And if I can make a living doing that even better, you know?

Panama Jackson [00:13:20] So this begs the question, though, because and you mentioned something earlier, so I’m going to I’m we’re going to kind of talk representation and show running in the same space with Queen Sugar for me, because, you know, for me, that was easily one of my favorite shows that’s ever existed.

Queen Sugar [00:13:33] Everything just feels different all of a sudden. A pay stub is a requirement of your parole, giving me a heads up that you were going to write an article taking down the entire police department.

Anthony Sparks [00:13:45] Thank you for the support.

Panama Jackson [00:13:47] Man. I cannot stress how much I enjoyed that show for a couple reasons. One, the representation piece you’re talking about. I had never seen characters like any of those on on screen. I still contend, and I’ve been trying to figure out how I’m going to do it about. And I told you this about Ralph Angel being like the most like complete, complex Black male character to ever exist on screen.

[00:14:12] Ya’ll serious right now? You going to just that the family legacy go like that.

Panama Jackson [00:14:20] Like I there’s I have been trying I’ve been like, beating my head against the wall, trying to figure out what and how I’m going to address that and what platform at some point. Similarly, I had never heard the term showrunner actually, you know, I think the word showrunner really hit like the Black consciousness when Prentice Penny with Insecure, we started hearing that. I remember when Insecure dropped, they started talking about the showrunner. I’m like, Who the hell is the showrunner? Like, What does that have to do with any of this? Like, I didn’t understand that, but all of a sudden now I see it as a part of every conversation with every show, like the showrunner, the showrunner, the showrunner. So. So yeah. Tell me a bit about like being a showrunner and then how the Queen Sugar thing came into be. This is where the representation part is like, right, How intentional was all of that with the way you all were writing and depicting and like it was like, Perfect is a strong word, right? I don’t know that anybody ever has perfection, but I never felt so seen by characters that don’t even represent my life. You know what I mean?

Anthony Sparks [00:15:19] Got it, Got it. Well, yeah. I mean, you know, Queen Sugar, who said, you know, I did almost the whole series. I did six seasons. You know, they decided to do a seventh act. And by then I was contracted somewhere else to go to other places. But that show will always be a special, special part, not only of my resume, but of my heart. You know, I gave gave a lot, a lot, a lot to that show. And and I’m thankful that I could do that. It was created for television by Ava DuVernay, based on the book by Natalie Basil, and in some ways are similar. But in a lot of ways they’re different. And, you know, the the I agree with you 100% about the Ralph Angel character, one of them, and that was the character that frankly made me want to do the show, actually, that when I first read, when I first read the pilot script, I was like, this guy, I know this guy. I, I like, let’s do this, you know? And, you know, it’s it’s so you’re right showrunning you know, you sometimes you best show creators and showrunners and oftentimes they’re the same person but oftentimes they are not, you know, because the creator that’s one script, you know, and you’re trying to then get to somewhere between 50 and 100 episodes if you can, you know, based on the world that was set to get that script. And so TV becomes a collaborative process in that way. But generally speaking, you need somebody there who is a lead creative voice, who’s there every day just living and living in that world and guiding that ship, you know, usually in combination with the creator if they’re still around, as that was the case with Queen Sugar and Ava DuVernay. But you need someone who deeply cares and is deeply capable of delivering that show weekend in, week out, you know? And to me, being in that position means that you are also taking on the responsibility of representation of of showing us if it’s if it’s if it’s a show that’s in the Black community or having Black characters showing us with complexity, you know, and and making that legible to your financial partners in a way that they let you, you know, get real and do what you want to do. So that’s where the benefit of being on the Oprah Winfrey Network and having Oprah Winfrey as an executive producer was really, really beneficial because, you know, she’s a powerful woman. And so you could put that show out there and not overexplain it. And that’s part of the reason for its success. I think, you know, if it were somewhere else that we would have we would not have been able to do that show exactly the way that we did it. I am probably fairly certain in saying that. Yeah.

Panama Jackson [00:18:22] Yeah. I there’s no way that this show lives in was as like, authentic. As as well lit. It looked amazing. Like everything about it. The way that it was like set up was was was like. Like I said, perfect is strong, but I just remember the conversations I had amongst my friends when we were trying to decide like, I what we want to talk about, a show that actually represents us. And we all watched Queen Sugar, we’re like, This was amazing. Like, I just I love everything about it.

Anthony Sparks [00:18:51] I just wanted to comment, like, even on the lighting piece, right? You know, which obviously is directors and cinematographers, But it’s an esthetic that is definitely you have to value that. You know how many young.

Panama Jackson [00:19:03] Right.

Anthony Sparks [00:19:03] Black kids we have rolling around in this country who don’t think that they are beautiful because when they look at images on TV and film, they don’t know that they’re looking at Black people who aren’t lit correctly. You know, they don’t know that. They just know that some reason the esthetic isn’t as pleasing. And then that makes them think, oh, maybe, maybe, you know, other people are more attractive. Like, that’s a taboo thing to say, but people think that. You know, and then have to find a way to overcome that.

Panama Jackson [00:19:40] What did you all feel as people creating in working in it? And just like I mean, Kofi Siriboe became a superstar, you know, through this through this show, like, you know, we didn’t know who he was. The first thing all of a sudden, this man’s on magazine covers and everywhere, like.

Anthony Sparks [00:19:55] And he needed security at the Essence Festival. Yeah, he was in danger. The reception was I knew from day one we were working on something that could be special. Just everything. Just been around long enough to have a sense like this. You know, there are a lot of things that have to go right, but the intentionality is there for it to be something special. It was on the right network and have the right kind of support, had the right kind of vision, the writers room in particular, and to your writers room outside of your cast, there is no more important decision about about a show I think is is who is going to write it. And we just had a really great group of writers who poured their heart into the show and poured love into it, and Ava was able to capture that, and it showed up on the screen, you know? So, yeah, yeah. You know, my mother, for example. Of all the shows I’ve done, she has since passed, but and she passed while I was was writing and producing Queen Sugar. It was definitely her favorite show that I’ve ever done. And the reason was because she recognized those people. She had never seen, people that she that represented her and that she recognized being rendered in such complexity and in such beauty and with such excellence. And so I’m very pleased that if she had to leave this realm that she left watching her son do something that was incredibly meaningful to her. And a lot of people love it.

Panama Jackson [00:21:42] We’re going to take a break right here. And when we come back, we’re going to talk about what you’re doing now, another legacy show and how it’s impacting the community. So we’re going to take a quick break here on Dear Culture. We’ll be right back. All right. We’re back to our Dear Culture. We’re here with Anthony Sparks. We just got finished talking about Queen Sugar, which is a show that creatively introduced an entire world of Blackness, of representation that I don’t think we’d ever seen before. But you then moved to Bel Air. You became the executive producer and a writer for the second season of Bel Air, which is the reimagining of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but in a more dramatic, dramatic role.

Bel Air [00:22:23] Ten years is a long time. Let me show how. Hilary, let’s go find you something fit for a prince. What do you think? Made you look.

Panama Jackson [00:22:36] And I have to ask, what’s it like going from a space that you literally have complete creative license on where that world is going? Like you said, the book, the show was very different than the book, right? I mean, there are new characters that weren’t even in the book that are main characters in the show. And then you go to air, which has its own history, its own legacy. People feel a way about the way, you know, people felt very strongly about Bel Air, you know what I mean? And in the first season, I love it. I’m a huge fan of the show. Watch every episode. I’m mad that I don’t have advance screeners to watch the whole thing. But, you know, so what’s it like stepping into from a world where you have complete creative control of that world to one where you have to honor some of the history in the legacy and the stories that have already been created?

Anthony Sparks [00:23:21] You know what that is A first of all, that is a fantastic question. I just like the fact that you even get draw out that difference because it is a huge in particularly in my body of work and career thus far. It is a huge difference going from that. Right. You know, people love the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. They feel a certain kind of way about it. And now you dare go reinterpret it like there were 5000 ways this could go wrong. 5000 and one ways it should go wrong and it didn’t. And I will credit that to some very smart decisions that were made by the people who reimagined this Morgan Cooper and some other writers and producers that were on the team that first season and continuing this season with myself and all the banks models, you know. What was attractive to me about the show and what I think is resonating with people is. Even though The Fresh Prince was a sitcom, the premise is actually fairly dramatic.

Fresh Prince of Bel Air [00:24:30] How come you don’t want me?

Anthony Sparks [00:24:43]  Morgan Cooper did take the premise seriously, you know. And I would argue there’s a world in which if TV had been evolved to the point where it is now, particularly for Black characters and shows featuring Black folks, that it maybe should have always been a drama, actually. You know, given that premise and in the 21st century, you could now take a chance and do that as opposed to the eighties, where in early 90s, where maybe there wasn’t as much space in the TV realm to do that.

Panama Jackson [00:25:18] They just wanted to see us laughing and jolly on screen. And now we could do it differently. Mm hmm.

Anthony Sparks [00:25:23] Yeah, you can. Through the politic way that I’m saying it. Exactly. You know, we could. We could. We could just say, take this seriously. Now. Why? I loved him, wanted to do the show when the opportunity came to me is because if you take that premise seriously, what you’re actually doing is a show about the interior life journey of a young Black male. And how often do you get to see that? This is a brother from West Philly. Who defines his Blackness in his manhood to himself in a particular kind of way. That gets completely blown up. And he has to go to something that is unfamiliar to him and unfamiliar to probably the majority of Black folks, which is Black wealth. And because we have become so good in our community at taking the thing that we struggle with and has been oppressed upon us and turning it into some kind of virtue and even turning it sometimes into an authenticity test for what it is to be Black. Now, what is it now that you don’t have that now that the lights are going to stay on? You’re not struggling for money. You have caviar in the refrigerator if you want. I suppose that’s where you keep caviar. I don’t know. You know, but I’m saying, you know, I don’t either. So boy takes it. You know. So what is that journey And so is going to. So you see that push and pull and that tension in the show of him trying to decide, especially this season, he’s basically gone out and tried to recreate what he had in West Philly, even though he lives in Bel-Air, you know, vis a vis the basketball piece, you know, how’s that going to work out? You know, it’s probably going to be a little bumpy. And so it’s going to force him to go inside by the end of the season without me giving away spoilers to ask, Who am I now? Who am I when I get to decide, when I get to to choose the circumstances of my life day to day. And it’s not defined through struggle. Are you less Black? Are you less of a Black young Black man, or is there a different way to be so, you know. Basically the show is about we’re not a monolith.

Panama Jackson [00:27:35] You know what I will say, too, it’s interesting, because this is two shows that you’ve worked on that I’m familiar with where. Like the Black male characters are supremely complex and it’s not even Will I’m talking about it’s the Carlton character on on on Bel Air.

Bel Air [00:27:49] You’re a long way from home. Oh, dude, how are you, man? You know, thriving. I hope one day we can talk about why you are really here.

Panama Jackson [00:28:00] I love that character because I hate him so much, but he has such an amazing arc. Like as a person, like Will coming in changes his whole world. But like, the way that the cartoon characters, like, you forget that everybody else has to deal with this new reality and how that impacts the world that they live in. And you get to see his struggles with his Blackness, with his with his mental health, like just having to navigate this world where Will comes in and is cooler than him in a lot of ways. But he’s still like he it’s fascinating. Like, I love that character and.

Anthony Sparks [00:28:42] I do too.

Panama Jackson [00:28:43] I do need somebody to explain to me where Carlton learned how to fight because in that latest episode, he’s putting them paws on that dude. And I’m like, Where in the world is this dude learn how to fight like that? Because those were good points. And I’m like, There ain’t no way in the world that Carlton knows how to fight like this. So I need somebody to explain that. But I love Carlton’s character on this show, just for what he’s bringing. What has been allowed to be brought out of that character since he doesn’t have to be funny. He’s not just a foil. He’s a real full human. And I love what he what’s happening with him as a Black man. As a Black man who’s already experienced all of this stuff that Will is now learning, but having to navigate the the keeping it real part of it. Like, I think that’s so fascinating.

Anthony Sparks [00:29:29] And you know what? I love that character, too. And I love the re-imagining of like, who is this person if he doesn’t, as you said, if he doesn’t have to be like the funny foil. Like, what are his issues? How does he cope with them? And that gets us into this mental health piece, which allows us to have that conversation that we don’t have enough in the Black community about how do you, you know, like prioritize mental health and and then how do you how do you deal with it and what does it cost? Of a character, a Black character in that world, if they haven’t dealt with some of their stuff. Right. Okay. So look, I got two kids in private school. Two boys in private school. You know, that whole journey and a daughter who just graduated from that kind of world. And while you go into those spaces, because that’s unfortunately in our country, where most of the best education or, you know, is sort of behind gates, unfortunately. But I know if you’re you know, you got three kids too, right?

Panama Jackson [00:30:37] Four.

Anthony Sparks [00:30:41] Okay. You got four? Congratulations. Okay.

Panama Jackson [00:30:46] Thank you.

Anthony Sparks [00:30:46] Your your your. Your prayer is that they go through their school journey and come out not only educated and can compete in that realm, but healthy and whole. Right. That’s the prayer, right? Every day of every moment. Every moment of every day. You’re like, don’t you want them to be self affirming? You want them to just. You just want them to not be messed up. Right. So the great thing about that character is, is we get to dramatize, well, why do we have to say that prayer so hard when you send them into these environments? You know, we’ve not really seen a complex, dramatic sort of point of view on that, because a lot of times when you have like a wealthy Black character or whatever, they’re presented just as this jerk who just, you know, hates everybody and looks down their nose at people and we never get to see what’s going on beyond that, because usually they’re not the main character. They are literally brought in, generally speaking, the rich Black foil. In this case, he’s a main part of the show. We get to go deeper.

Panama Jackson [00:31:56] Yeah, he’s amazing. All right. We’re going to take one more break here. And when we come back, we’re going to do some of my favorite segments on the show, which are Blackfessions and Blackmendations. But I have another question for you that’s a little more personal, but based on what you just said. So I’m going to take one more break here and Dear Culture. Be right back. Right. We’re back here on Dear Culture, and I’m still here with Anthony Sparks. We’ve been talking about air and the complexity of the Carlton character and just the story in general. And, you know, one thing I love about that show is the family aspect of it, of course. I mean, that’s that’s part of the draw. We all loved Uncle Phil. We all loved Aunt Viv, whichever version is your favorite in all of that. But one thing I’ve noticed about you, because I follow you on social media, is you seem to be as present a husband and father as you are professional. How? You seem so busy. How do you manage to be able to balance so well? Because that’s what that’s what I notice a lot when I’m following you on social media. I’m like, This is amazing. Like, his kids are all in here. Like he spends a lot of time in seemingly all the places. And I feel like that’s a lesson we all need to learn.

Anthony Sparks [00:33:00] Man, that’s a great question. First of all, thank you for noticing and thank you for even valuing that enough to ask about it. It is not automatic, as you well know. It obviously takes.

Panama Jackson [00:33:11] Yes.

Anthony Sparks [00:33:13] But it is labor. But it is it is a labor of love, though. You know, I did not grow up with my biological. So I consider perhaps the most pioneering thing I’ve done in my life is be a husband and father, the kind of husband and father I’m striving to be. There is nothing more important than that. You know, my career is incredibly important. My art is very important. My creativity is very important. I have a creative household. My wife is creative. She’s bad, you know. But so we do have a common purpose. That way. We both value that and give each other space to do what that needs to be. It’s not a competition. You know, I told her recently, I said, Hey, hey, you got to get more sleep. This don’t work without you. Like, none of this don’t work without you. And she appreciated.

Panama Jackson [00:34:09] That.

Anthony Sparks [00:34:11] You know, So. So. And she’s amazing. She’s an easy, easy, easy person to love. So I guess the thing is, is it’s the priority. It is a priority. And I’m blessed that my ascendancy in my career in terms of being in charge or being high level has come at a time where I do need to be present for my kids. So, hey, all, I’m setting it up. And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I got to dip out for 2 hours. My son’s running a track, you know, thing, you know, or my son’s playing basketball or whatever. And so it’s very important that I’m very organized when I’m doing my thing because I’m trying to make space by being efficient in my work so that I can be present for my family. You know, in that way.

Panama Jackson [00:35:01] What I hear is be intentional, right? You need to be intentional about, you know, your time and your space and how you prioritize that. And that’s I think that’s a lesson in every conversation I’ve had with anybody about fatherhood or being a good husband, being a good father, all that stuff, it all seems to come down to. You have to put in the effort and you have to be intentional with the way that you want to do it. You can’t just wake up and hope it all. It all works. You have to make these things work the best way that you can. You know what I mean? And that’s that’s as good a that’s as good advice for anything that anybody I think is ever going to give. And I’ve ever heard. So point taking. I just it’s fascinating to see. Time for a quick break. Stay with us. And we’re back. So one of my favorite segments here at the show, when we come to a close, we do two things. We do Blackfessions and we do Blackmendations. Our Blackfessions are confessions that people might be surprised to learn about you because you’re Black. Right. And I’m always amazed at the kind of things that people show up with, the movies they haven’t seen or the books they haven’t read, the people they hate, the, you know, whatever it is, it’s, you know, we always like to say we’re not a monolith and this is always an opportunity to prove it. So do you have a Blackfession for us?

Anthony Sparks [00:36:11] I do. I do. And and and, you know, it’s a stereotype to begin with. So let me just say that that I don’t participate in. But since you’re asking, I hate watermelon, I can’t stand it. Cannot stand watermelon.

Panama Jackson [00:36:32] People do say that. I don’t know how you can hate watermelon. It’s so wonderful. It tastes so great.

Anthony Sparks [00:36:38] I can’t.

Panama Jackson [00:36:40] Just always been the case. Have you been like this your whole life?

Anthony Sparks [00:36:43] It’s so  messy. And it’s like it’s a lot of work where little payoff and it’s too many seeds and, you know, it’s too much. You know, it’s too much. Like when. When I go to a juice, like a juice shop or something, and they’re like, oh, watermelon smoothie. I’m like, I can’t think of anything more disgusting. To be honest with you. You know.

Panama Jackson [00:37:07] It’s funny, you said a lot of work with a little payoff. That’s very funny to me.

Anthony Sparks [00:37:12] It’s a lot of work, you know? And so when I was younger, growing up, people like, Oh, you got to do, you know, melon come in and people get excited. It’s a hot day in Chicago and stuff like that, you know, And I would just I would just sit there just looking at people, like judging like, you know.

Panama Jackson [00:37:32] Thank you for that Blackfession. To counter these Blackfessions, we also asked people to share Blackmendations, which are recommendations by, for and about something in the Black, the Black culture, Black community. Basically, we ask people to share something that they think other people in the community should be up on, should be aware of, should be checking out. And a lot of people have you know, you’re a creative, you have a lot of things that you work on that could be anything. So do you have a Blackmendation for us?

Anthony Sparks [00:37:59] Yeah. I think it’s for parents. I’m going to get it wrong. But there’s a great book out about college admissions for Black families that.

Panama Jackson [00:38:11] I have that book.

Anthony Sparks [00:38:13] Okay, Yeah. What’s the name of it? I’m doing such a bad job, I can’t think of the name of the book.

Panama Jackson [00:38:19] It’s. I know what you’re talking about. It’s like everything you need to know about college admissions kind of thing. But I know exactly what I. It’s downstairs in my library. Yeah, but I do have that book, and I know exactly what you’re talking about.

Anthony Sparks [00:38:31] Yeah, it’s. It’s. It might be as simple as, like, college admissions for Black families. It’s something like that. If you Google that. That’s a book that I have enjoyed reading. I just went through the process and the college admissions process is changing so quickly, you know, due to the pandemic and test optional becoming more prevalent and all that other stuff. So I just think I like the sort of even keeled manner in which those brothers kind of talk about how we have to have our own priority list, not get caught up and swept up and sort of the stuff that other folks be talking about because it may or may not be the thing that’s right for your particular kid, you know, And so that might be a little bit of a left Blackmendation, you know, a little bit left, you know.

Panama Jackson [00:39:19] No, that’s perfect. That’s what it is called The Black Families Guide to College Admissions. So it was Simple by Timothy Fields and Serene Herndon Brown. Yeah. So, yeah, yeah. We’ll make sure. We make sure we we put that up on the screen so people can see that. Well, just called. Yeah, I’m familiar with that book. I also bought a copy of it. I’m some years away from that. But you never. You never start too early. Right. Well, you.

Anthony Sparks [00:39:42] You said you have a 13? Is your oldest 13? 14? 13, 14?

Panama Jackson [00:39:47] She just turned 14. She starts high school next year. So. Okay. You know. Yeah. Yeah. My plan was for her to go to Spelman, but it turns out she wants to be an actor in life. So now she’s looking at all these other schools, the Carnegie Mellon and all that type of stuff, because that’s where her mind is. So, you know, who knows where she’s going to end up.

Anthony Sparks [00:40:07] Well, keep my personal information if that’s her, if she stays on that track, because that was my pathway, you know. And so, you know, I was auditioning and applying to the Carnegie Mellon’s and the NYUs and USCs and Northwest, you know, all those Juilliard and all that other stuff. And it is a very particular way to go through the college admissions process. And I have some thoughts about it, you know? So, yeah.

Panama Jackson [00:40:33] I will absolutely be reaching out when the time comes. Sir, thank you for being here. Where can people watch it? Where can people find Anthony Sparks in your work and everything you can watch?

Anthony Sparks [00:40:45] You know what I’ve been working on on Bel Air, which is on Peacock drop in weekly now for another six or seven weeks. But you can find me on Insta at Sparks. Anthony Sparks dot Anthony Same thing on Twitter, Sparks Anthony on there and you know keep an eye out I got a lot of stuff going on that I’m not able to talk about right now, but I’m very excited about the things that I am working on that have not dropped yet, you know, But I’m blessed. I’m working with an Oscar winner. I’m working with an Emmy winner, I’m working with the Pulitzer Prize winner, and I’m doing a lot of stuff that is keeping me very, very busy and engaged. And it takes a while for her to kind of go through that TV process before you see it. But it’s coming and I’m excited about it.

Panama Jackson [00:41:37] Thank you for sharing a little time with us here. Dear Culture. You know, like I said before, it seems like the work that you do is 100% right up my alley. Like it’s all the stuff that I’m the most interested in culturally. So I genuinely appreciate all you’ve done, what you will do. I love Bel Air. I’m watching it every week. Obviously. I watched all the Queen Sugar and I’m keeping up, so I’m looking forward to seeing what you got going on in the future. You know, thank you for your time. You are greatly appreciated. Keep representing us. You know, I love I love the storytelling in the way that you represent Black people and just people in general, you know, people who happen to be Black. We are telling stories here and I, you know, thank you for everything that you bring to the table.

Anthony Sparks [00:42:20] Thank you so much, Panama. I thank you. I appreciate that deeply. Thank you.

Panama Jackson [00:42:24] And thank you to everybody who’s listening to their culture. Here we are an original podcast of theGrio Black Podcast Network. Our producer is Sasha Armstrong and Regina Griffin is our managing editor of podcasts. So make sure you stay tuned. Check us out every week. Thanks for listening. I’m Panama Jackson. Have a Black one.

Maiysha Kai [00:43:07] We started this podcast to talk about not just what Black writers write about, but how.

Ayana Gray [00:43:12] Well, personally, it’s on my bucket list to have one of my books banned. I know that’s probably bad, but I think.

Maiysha Kai [00:43:18] Ooh, spicy.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault [00:43:19] They were yelling N-word, Go home. And I was looking around for the N-word because I knew it couldn’t be me because I was a Queen.

Keith Boykin [00:43:26] I’m telling people to quit this mentality of identifying ourselves by our work, to start to live our lives and to redefine the whole concept of how we work and where we work and why we work in the first place.

J. Ivy [00:43:42] Honored to be here. Thank you for doing the work that you’re doing. Keep shinning bright. And  like you said, we going to keep Writing Black.

Maiysha Kai [00:43:49] As always, you can find us on theGrio app or wherever you find your podcasts.