Black-ish Election Special

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Black-ish Election Special TV Poster Image
Hopeful special explores history of voter oppression.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Positive messages abound about why it's important to participate in the democratic process. Viewers will be educated on the Electoral College, voting rights in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, literacy tests and other methods of voter suppression, women's suffrage, the "three-fifths" compromise and many other aspects of U.S. political history. The overall vibe is upbeat: Regular people can and do affect change. 

Positive Role Models

This sitcom about a Black/multiracial family always blends sitcom humor with warm family drama and sly social commentary; this special is no different. Every member of the Johnson family is up for political engagement, and each finds a way to participate. Parents are present and encouraging. Dre's boss Stevens, a rich white guy, is a stereotype played for laughs, but the parallels to other rich white clueless politicians are choice. 

Violence

There's no actual violence, but Diane does make a joke about being a dictator in which she says if anyone opposed her "the streets would run red with their blood."

Sex

Sexual content is limited to one joke, in which it's said about an older rich white guy running for office "When the wiener pills stop working, they try to screw the country." 

Language

Language includes "damn," "ass," "f--k" is bleeped. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

There's some humor about drinking, like when Junior says he didn't drink underage in college (he only went for 3 days) and Pop says he's had "a little to drink." Several characters drink wine, including one who seems to be having a glass to deal with tough emotions.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the Black-ish Election Special is a two-part episode of Black-ish that seeks to illuminate various aspects of American politics and to inspire viewers to vote. Positive messages are extensive: the show underlines the power of voting and the importance of participating in the political process in different ways. It also educates viewers about a number of important issues, including voter suppression, the Electoral College, the difficulty women and people of color have had getting the vote and ways that they've been stopped from actually casting their votes. The overall vibe is upbeat and light; viewers will feel energized instead of discouraged. As is typical of Black-ish, family ties are strong and family members are supportive of each other. Any iffy material is contained in jokes: there's one about older white men running for office that assumes they're grasping for power because they've lost sexual potency, and another in which a girl imagines being a dictator with the power to make the streets "run red with the blood" of those who oppose her. Several characters drink wine, and one makes a joke about the alcohol affecting his perception of a speech. Language is infrequent: "damn," "ass," and one bleeped "f--k." 

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What's the story?

Just before Election Day 2020, the BLACK-ISH ELECTION SPECIAL takes the cast of the long-running sitcom Black-ish on a dive into politics in America. The first part looks much like a regular episode of Black-ish, with a storyline that finds Junior (Marcus Scribner) devastated to find that he's been purged from the voter rolls just when he becomes eligible to vote. Naturally, the other members of the Johnson family are ready to give him their own unique kinds of comfort and wisdom as the family looks at the history of voter oppression in the United States. The special's second part animates the members of Black-ish's world and imagines what might happen if Dre's (Anthony Anderson) amoral boss Stevens (Peter Mackenzie) ran for office, and Dre ran in opposition. 

Is it any good?

Ditching its usual storylines in favor of a two-part story that digs into modern American politics from a Black viewpoint, offering viewers both bittersweet laughs and a shred of hope. The special's first episode feels a lot more like a regular ep of Black-ish, with a clearly defined issue (Junior's removal from the voter rolls) and the regular cast hanging around scoring points as usual. Pops (Laurence Fishburne) directs Junior to one of his favorite online conspiracy theorists; Diane (Marsai Martin) spins a fantasy about becoming an all-powerful dictator; it's up to Dre to show Junior the way. "All our lives we've been told how important it is to vote to change the system, but it feels like the system keeps on finding ways to make sure our voices don't matter," says Junior. But Dre points out that the system wants Junior to feel hopeless: "People are out there working their asses off to keep us from voting," he tells he son. "They're only doing that because they're afraid of our power. The ballot is the best weapon we have." Spoiler alert: Junior votes! 

The special's second half is animated, with the entire cast including the Johnson clan and the staff at Dre's workplace, represented by 2D avatars. Times are tough in this animated world, when Dre's amoral boss Stevens running for office inspires Dre to do likewise. But of course, Dre's path doesn't run smooth; while everything comes easily for Stevens. When Dre promises that his campaign won't use underhanded tactics, that when Stevens goes low, he'll go high, Stevens sneers that "While you go high, I'll go to my $20,000 a plate fundraising dinner" and he'll make enough money to crush Dre's ambitions. Fans of Black-ish know that Dre will always find a way to avoid being flattened...but watching the struggle is instructive, in more ways than one. By slipping sly commentary into smooth, expert comedy, Black-ish scores -- expect this special to spark many a kitchen-table conversation, and possibly even inspire the next generation of activists. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why this special was made. Is it just for entertainment or does it have something else to impart to viewers? Does it hope to spark action? Change? What type of viewer is it hoping to reach and why? 

  • Black-ish is known for representing Black points of view in a humorous way, with political and cultural commentary baked into a comedic show. Does the comedy help Black-ish's points land? Does the show make viewers think? Does the comedy detract from Black-ish's points? 

  • How do Dre, Junior, and the other members of the Johnson family demonstrate perseverance and teamwork? Why are these important character strengths?

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