According to the Hollywood Reporter, Black-ish creator and Girls Trip writer Kenya Barris may be trying to exit his overall deal with ABC Studios. The creator has been working for the network since 2015, earning them a Peabody and two best comedy Emmy nominations for Black-ish. This move could prove tricky for Barris, who signed a four-year deal with ABC just last year.
Barris is reportedly trying to move to Netflix, where he would join other poached network writers like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy. The streaming conglomerate has been courting creators who can produce both critical darlings and moneymaking hits, so Barris’ work certainly fits the bill. Black-ish is beloved across demographics, Freeform spinoff Grown-ish is poised for similar success, and I don’t even need to tell you how much America loved Girls Trip. According to a source, talks between Barris and Netflix are “very real,” although Barris’ representatives declined to comment. Barris has a film deal with Fox, the expiration of which is unknown.
Despite his overwhelming success, it’s been difficult for Barris to get his latest television projects to air. Neither his Toni Collette–led passion project Unit Zero nor his political opposites-attract comedy Libby and Malcolm were picked up by ABC. The network was trying to push through Barris’ multicamera series starring Alec Baldwin, but the project fell through after Baldwin left. Barris’s Bright Futures did find a home, but not with ABC—NBC picked up the millennial comedy with a late-season pilot order.
The split could be due to politically motivated creative differences between Barris and ABC. Just last month, the network axed an episode of Black-ish in which Dre (Anthony Anderson) imparts his political concerns to his son. This was a mutual decision, according to Barris, who said, “Given our creative differences, neither ABC nor I were happy with the direction of the episode and mutually agreed not to air it.” The news was notably bizarre, considering episodes of Black-ish that dealt with Juneteenth, post-Trump grief, police brutality, and the N-word have all gone to air. There is also speculation that this could have something to do with Roseanne’s recent, dubiously racist Fresh off the Boat and Black-ish jab. The controversial reboot is undoubtedly in good standing after it drew record numbers last week—it has already been renewed for a second season.
It would certainly make sense for Barris to sign with Netflix. He fits the bill, it would be a very lucrative move (Rhimes and Murphy both reportedly scored nine-figure deals from the studio), and he’s already in cahoots with them for the Shaft reboot and Coming to America sequel. If this is true, it could mark a huge win for the talented writer—and an enormous loss for ABC.