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Kenya Barris is easily one of the greatest screenwriters of our times. As the creator of black-ish he has introduced mainstream audiences to poignant questions and commentary on race, class, gender, and social inequalities. His most controversial episode, however, Please Baby, Please, was shelved indefinitely in part due to its anti-Trump sentiments compounded with footage from the Charleston 9 shooting, being narrated by Spike Lee, and the kneeling movement began by Colin Kaepernick. After being silent for well over a year and opting to leave ABC for Netflix, he is finally breaking his silence on the controversial episode, his Netflix deal, and other difficulties that led to his departure from the Walt Disney owned company.

Kenya spoke in depth with The Hollywood Reporter about all of his above mentioned issues. You can catch a snippet of it below:

kenya barris the hollywood reporter

When Kenya Barris sat down last fall to write an episode of his ABC comedy Black-ish, titled “Please, Baby, Please,” he had a sense it might stir up trouble.

The setup was relatively simple: Dre, the Johnson family patriarch played by Anthony Anderson, was telling his infant son, Devante, a bedtime story that reflected on the events of his first year on the planet. It was, per multiple sources, a mix of political allegory (an animated fairy tale about a character named The Shady King) and actuality (news footage of Donald Trump, the Charlottesville attacks and the NFL kneeling protests). “When you’re putting a baby to sleep, you’re trying to soothe whatever anxieties they’re having,” says Barris, speaking for the first time about the controversial episode. “So, this was about me trying to pat the butt of the country and soothe people.”

“Please, Baby, Please,” which was supposed to air in the back half of the Emmy-nominated series’ fourth season, was shot in wide angle, with very little score. Production is said to have upped its usual episode budget of $3 million or so, spending handsomely on rights and clearances for such things as the Sam Cooke ballad “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which Barris personally met with Cooke’s goddaughter to secure. He enlisted a high-profile illustrator, too, and hired his hero Spike Lee to do voiceover, since the episode took its title and inspiration from a children’s book written by Lee and his wife. Rather than focus on the entire Johnson clan, as Black-ish typically does, the episode centered primarily on Dre and his interpretation of real-world events presented to his son as a form of catharsis. As a father of six, Barris has had plenty of experience calming children at bedtime.

“We approached it with the network and the studio as, ‘This is different,'” says the 44-year-old showrunner. “We certainly knew people would talk about it.”

The episode did, in fact, get people talking, if not for the reason Barris anticipated. Mere days before its scheduled Feb. 27 air date, “Please, Baby, Please” was mysteriously and indefinitely shelved. While Barris is strategic with his choice of words — careful never to utter the phrase “censorship” as others throughout the industry do — the move turned out to be the last straw in his long-standing and already complicated relationship with The Walt Disney Co. “I don’t know that I would have been as useful to them as they’d need me to be after that,” he offers. Those in his cast are far less diplomatic. Tracee Ellis Ross has called the decision “frightening,” while Anderson suggests it was a personal affront. “He’d given his blood, sweat and tears to [the episode], which they had signed off on every step of the way — from the outline, to the script, to the table read, to the point where they actually spent the money and made the episode,” says the actor, who’s also an executive producer. “And I don’t know what those conversations were, but we entered into this partnership with the understanding that we would be able to tell the stories that we wanted to tell.”

Anderson was first informed of the decision by Barris and his manager only four or five days before the episode was supposed to run. He, like much of the cast, was shocked, and more than a little confused. What Barris hadn’t told his actors was that he’d been quietly locked in battle over the episode’s fate for weeks. There’d been a flurry of back-and-forths with executives as high up as CEO Bob Iger, who called Barris from home, sick with laryngitis, and, per two sources, had a reasoned conversation with the showrunner about the political sensitivities of being a broadcast network in 2018. Executives at ABC, more than any other network, have been forthright about their desire for more red-state programming since Trump’s win — and with Barris’ latest episode, they feared they’d be alienating the very population they’d tried so hard to court. That Disney brass wouldn’t want to poke Trump himself just as the company was seeking Justice Department approval of its acquisition of most of 21st Century Fox is widely believed to have been a factor as well.

You can read the entire interview in depth by clicking here.

Whatever Kenya touches is going to be gold. We are not surprised Disney opted to shelve his episode to ensure that Fox deal went through. Money rules all they say, and it is evident around us. We cannot wait to see what he brings to Netflix! We are sure it will be just good as good–if not better–than anything he has ever done for ABC/Disney!

Celebrity Interviews

To Tame A Lyon! Meet Toby Onwumere (@toby_onwumere), The Newest Addition to Empire!

Hollywood is here FOREVER! The stages and the names change, but one thing for sure is that Tinsel Town will always be looking for talented and fresh faces. When that face also happens to be tall, dark, and handsome, the look is all the more exciting and tantalizing. Meet Toby Onwumere, a rising star that just so happens to meet the criteria of “tall, dark, and handsome,” and most of all talented!

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toby onwumere kai empire

Written By: Michael “Hey Mikey” Fanning

Hollywood is here FOREVER! The stages and the names change, but one thing for sure is that Tinsel Town will always be looking for talented and fresh faces. When that face also happens to be tall, dark, and handsome, the look is all the more exciting and tantalizing. Meet Toby Onwumere, a rising star that just so happens to meet the criteria of “tall, dark, and handsome,” and most of all talented!

toby onwumere kai empire

Toby is taking hearts and Fox’s Empire by storm as “Kai,” Jamal Lyon’s (Jussie Smollett) love interest and now fiancé! As Kai, Toby is doing groundbreaking work, as he showcases the life and love of a Black, gay, and HIV positive man against the backdrop of family drama, corporate sabotage, and ignorance. “I feel honored to play him [Kai] and bring his story to the forefront…It’s time to really inform people and push forward with representation and inclusivity, all while delivering a really unforgettable story.”

Toby is a first generation Nigerian-American, hailing from Dayton, Ohio and has always dreamt of being an actor. He counts his parents, Fidelis and Prisca, as being the driving force behind his pursuit of the arts as they allowed and encouraged him to do what he loves. “My parents were traditional, but not in the sense of what they expected me to be…usually when you’re Nigerian you the career paths your parents want for you are pretty narrow, you have to be like a doctor or lawyer, for them to do that is really amazing.” Toby admits he is stoked to be on Empire, revealing he has been a fan of the show since its inception. “Man I love it [Empire] I would be in class and thinking to myself I’m gonna be on that show one day, and here we are [he laughs].”

jussie smollett and toby onwumere empire kai jamal

Empire continues to be a ratings giant with no sign of slowing down in its fifth season. However, in an interesting plot twist the series has flashed forwarded two years into the future and we find that The Lyons are mostly in shambles. Lucious and Cookie continue to fight to win Empire back, Andre is incarcerated for Anika’s death, and Hakeem is unable to perform after a grave injury. Jamal, however, has flourished in his self-imposed exile to London, finding new label and love with Kai. Their relationship stands to be the strongest one we have seen for Jamal as Kai is empathetic, intelligent, and compassionate. Toby admits he and Kai are very similar in those aspects, but fundamentally different in others. “Well for one I’m straight [he laughs] and then I’m way too silly! Kai is more straight-laced and serious. I like to laugh and joke and be goofy.” Kai’s storyline is definitely a serious one as no shows have really shown a relationship like he and Jamal’s. Although the Kai’s HIV status has been a topic on the show, the larger phenomenon of him being with a partner who is negative and on PREP (via whatisprep.org, PrEP means Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, and it’s the use of anti-HIV medications to keep HIV negative people from becoming infected. PrEP is approved by the FDA and has been shown to be safe and effective at preventing HIV infection.”) “The storyline was meant to be more informative than anything else. People still have these notions about HIV/AIDS from the eighties and so many advancements have been made since then…the love between the two of them [Jamal and Kai] shows that everyone deserves love and can be loved. Kai just so happens to be HIV positive, but he really loves Jamal and he’s a great person. That’s what counts here love…The scene when they proposed to each other was really just magical and powerful.  It’s why I’m honored to play this character…this is really encouraging dialogue and I think people just need to be more open minded and educated.”

toby onwumere kai empire

Toby continues to look forward to the rest of this season of Empire and hints he has some pretty amazing projects in the works that he is not ready to share. However, he did reveal his holiday season will be international as he travels to Europe to bring in Christmas and the New Year. If 2019 is any bigger than 2018 was for him then we know he is about to be a household name! He advises aspiring actors to “Really study the craft. Take the classes and remain diligent. If this is what you want stick with it and never give up!” Catch Toby every Wednesday night at 8 PM EST on Fox’s Empire!

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Celebrity Interviews

Young & Winning! Meet Xolo Maridueña (@Xolo_Mariduena)!

Young teen, Xolo Maridueña is making a name for himself in the acting world, and slowly but surely becoming a young star. Xolo is just 17 years old and already the lead for the hit YouTube Red series “Cobra Kai.” He’s been named Latina’s Magazine Hottest Youngest Stars Under 25, and even with all that success, Xolo is a normal teenager that attends a regular HS, and shares the same celebrity crushes as just about every young teen in America.

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xolo mariduena

Young teen, Xolo Maridueña is making a name for himself in the acting world, and slowly but surely becoming a young star. Xolo is just 17 years old and already the lead for the hit YouTube Red series “Cobra Kai.” He’s been named Latina’s Magazine Hottest Youngest Stars Under 25, and even with all that success, Xolo is a normal teenager that attends a regular HS, and shares the same celebrity crushes as just about every young teen in America.

Before starring in the hit show, “Cobra Kai,” he played in the NBC show, “Parenthood” as Victor Braverman, which he explains is his ‘first big break.’ Xolo also discussed how working on that show made him come to a realization that acting was his passion, “At the time, I had never worked with such talented people before in my life, the whole cast are really some of the most professional, astonishing actors I ever met. And working with them, solidified that I want to be an actor, as my career.”

xolo mariduena

Xolo currently plays Miguel Diaz on the “Karate Kid” sequel, “Cobra Kai,” where he’s a sophomore in high school, trying to find himself. Xolo describes his character saying, “He’s struggling with a lot of teen struggles, being a kid going to a new high school…he has to find where he fits in, through Cobra Kai, he really starts to figure what’s important to him.”

Because the show is centered around martial arts, Xolo had to do a lot of preparing for the role. He talked about how a month before filming the show, he would practice every day, which included stretching, choreographing fights, and just learning about martial arts/artists. There were also about 2 or 3 hours of training Xolo had to do a day; Xolo talks a little bit about his struggles in the early stages of training, “My body was telling me to quit because I wasn’t used to this type of exercise or training…my body wasn’t really conditioned to work that way.” But fortunately for us, he didn’t quit because he’s killing it on the show.

With some of the original actors from the original “Karate Kid” starring in the show (Ralph Macchio and William Zabka), and with the huge legacy of “Karate Kid”, Xolo said he definitely felt the pressure to do a great job playing his character, “It definitely was a lot of pressure, but not just because those guys were on there, this is what people have been waiting to see for 30 plus years…the fans are very passionate about “Karate Kid.”

Xolo, who’s Mexican, Cuban, and Ecuadorian expressed how important his Hispanic heritage is to him, “I try hard to represent the Latino culture I’m a part of, not just in a role, but in everyday life, that I’m not only embracing my heritage but actively finding ways to spend time in my communities to come together.” He mentioned how him and other Latinos in entertainment are beneficial to the youth, “In this industry, having representation is the biggest thing, for people of color especially.”

xolo mariduena

Although he’s a young star with his own TV show, Xolo describes himself as a regular teenager, who also attends a regular school, and gives all the props to his parents for keeping him grounded, “My parents helped mold me into the guy I am today, and because of that, I have to thank them… My parents were very admitted about me attending school, it’s not like I’m working everyday throughout the whole year, there’s not really a need to be home schooled.” Xolo also went to prom with one of his friends from school, but young ladies don’t worry…he is still single, but unfortunately, he’s not looking for a relationship right now, he’s focused on his craft. But if he was, it would wishfully be one of his celebrity crushes, Zendaya, Yara Shahidi, Amandla Stenberg, or Rihanna.

So, Xolo is currently on summer break from school, and is gearing up for season 2 of “Cobra Kai” and although we have no word on when season 2 will air, he mentioned how he himself isn’t too sure of what the fans can expect. He did say we will learn more about the characters from season 1 and that we will be introduced to some new faces.

Photo Credits

Photographer: Tim Schaeffer at Cellar Door Studios @cellardoorstudios.la

Grooming: Joseph Adivari @adivaribeauty

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Rosie Perez (@rosieperezbklyn) Cast as Renee Montoya in Suicide Squad Spin-Off Movie, “Birds Of Prey!”

The DC Cinematic Univers (DCU) has definitely had its setbacks with less than stellar reviews for many of its films including the Justice League, Batman vs. Superman, and even Suicide Squad. That is not stopping DC from moving forward with a Birds of Prey movie based off the DC Comics superhero team of mostly female operatives that have included the likes of Black Canary, Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), and Huntress. Now, it seems Rosie Perez has been cast in the film as Gotham City cop turned vigilante, Renee Montoya!

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rosie perez renee montoya

The DC Cinematic Univers (DCU) has definitely had its setbacks with less than stellar reviews for many of its films including the Justice League, Batman vs. Superman, and even Suicide Squad. That is not stopping DC from moving forward with a Birds of Prey movie based off the DC Comics superhero team of mostly female operatives that have included the likes of Black Canary, Batgirl (Barbara Gordon), and Huntress. Now, it seems Rosie Perez has been cast in the film as Gotham City cop turned vigilante, Renee Montoya!

rosie perez renee montoya

Those familiar with Batman comics know that Renee is not only a detective, but a lesbian and love interest for Kate  Kane/Batwoman . She later goes on to become the superhero/vigilante, The Question, as the original holder of the mantle, Vic Sage, dies of cancer. The Question wears a faceless mask and when Renee takes over the helm she gains a ray gun that vaporize just about anything. There is no word on if the film’s version of the character will take on heroism, but we are definitely hoping.

DC seems to be betting on its female heroes a lot more as Wonder Woman is their most, and only, successful film to date. Announcing a Birds of Prey movie after stating both Batgirl and Supergirl films may be in the works is highly progressive. Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman, it seems!

via AV News

birds of prey dc comics

Birds of Prey core team line up; (l-r) Black Canary, Batgirl, Huntress

The cast of DC’s Birds Of Prey movie was already looking pretty good, with Margot Robbie reprising her role as Harley Quinn, Mary Elizabeth Winstead playing the Huntress, and Jurnee Smollett-Bell playing Black Canary, but now The Wrap is reporting that they’ll be joined by Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya. In the comics, Montoya spent a few years as a regular Gotham City cop before becoming a vigilante herself as the second incarnation of The Question (who was basically a detective with a cool faceless mask), but we don’t know at this point if Perez’s Montoya has any superheroic aspirations.

What we do know is that the film will sort of be a Harley Quinn-centric Suicide Squad spin-off—but not the Harley Quinn-centric Suicide Squad spin-off—with Robbie’s Harley teaming up with some other female DC characters to stop a big villain. Also thanks to The Wrap, we now know that the big villain is going to be Black Mask, a Gotham-based mobster who wears a black skull mask in the comics. Birds Of Prey will be directed by Cathy Yan, with the script coming from new Batgirl writer Christina Hodson.

Rosie will make an awesome Renee Montoya and we cannot wait to learn more about this film. Charlie’s Angels eat your hearts out!

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