The school will host a forum about diversity in television featuring “black-ish” creator Kenya Barris (Leyah ’19) and “All in the Family” creator Norman Lear (Madeline ’13) Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Saperstein Theatre.
The event is free and open to the public.
Winifred White Neisser, a former executive at NBC, former Senior Vice President of Television Movies and Mini-series at Sony Pictures and wife of history teacher Ken Neisser, will moderate the event. The forum will focus on race and television.
“In my opinion, ‘black-ish’ has handled issues of race and diversity in a very professional and subtle way,” John Harbor III ’18 said. “This show was a part of this new wave of TV shows that are based on families with a certain ethnic background and that are ironic and forward with calling out bias and backwards thinking.”
Lear is the creator and contributor of many shows in addition to “All in the Family,” including “Sanford and Son,” “One Day at a Time,” “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times.”
“[I hope to bring] a sense of our common humanity, you know,” Lear said. “This is a Cuban-American family, but there are Irish-Americans and the Jewish-Americans and the Chinese-Americans. And we all came to this country and all, basically, different as we may have been in terms of our cultures, we are human beings and tied at the heart and soul in our common humanity.”
The Television Academy Hall of Fame inducted Lear among the first seven people, former President Bill Clinton awarded him a National Medal of Arts in 1999 and the Academy nominated him for an Academy Award for writing “Divorce American Style.”
“The best advice anyone ever gave to writers was Geroge S. Kaufman, a famous playwright, who said, ‘Write,’” Lear said. “Write! Write whatever your gut dictates you to be writing.”
Lear also participates in social and political activism as well as philanthropy, focusing on civic engagement and the First Amendment.
“I don’t think of myself as a political activist,” Lear said. “I think of myself as an American citizen. America depends on its citizens and their opinions and their votes and how they’re feeling about where their governments should be heading. The more we reflect our citizenship, the healthier our country.”
The 94-year-old noted that the development of television has been immense.
“I was at the birth of television, and it was all kind of an accident of fate,” Lear said. “[We went] from about three channels to three-thousand places to go for content. The answer is in the arithmetic.”
Barris, on the other hand, began his career as the co-creator and producer of “America’s Next Top Model” alongside Tyra Banks, followed by the creation of “black-ish” of which he is also the executive producer and co-showrunner.
“It’s amazing to me on so many different levels, and it’s rewarding,” Barris said in his Peabody acceptance speech. “When you tell a good story, I think that’s what people really relate to.”
Barris won a Peabody Award for “black-ish” in 2015.
“Someone told me that the point of art is to make conversation and every week that’s what we’re trying to do,” Barris continued.