“Black-ish” is officially back and the new season is already off to a powerful start.
Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross return as part of one of TV’s most beloved families in season 4 of the show, which debuted Tuesday on ABC. Anderson and Ross ― who star as parents Dre and Rainbow Johnson ― attend a school play in which their children Diane and Jack, played by Marsai Martin and Miles Brown, respectively, celebrate Columbus Day.
Dre has no patience for this and questions the teacher on why students are adulating a slave trader. Moments later, his father, played by Laurence Fishburne, jumps in to ask why moments in black culture don’t receive the same recognition.
“What about Tupac’s birthday?” he asks. “What about Magic Johnson’s Still Alive Day? What about Juneteenth?”
Dre, telling his father that he should have lead with the last suggestion, later pitches the idea to the advertising company where he works, and attempts to make Juneteenth a national holiday. He recruits the help of singer Aloe Blacc to promote the message behind Juneteenth, which recognizes the end of slavery in the U.S.
The episode, which expertly weaves together humor and political commentary, includes a series of flashbacks where the Johnson family returns to two critical points in history ― the day before and the day after June 19, 1865, when federal troops arrived in Texas to take over the state and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued in 1863. The family performs musical numbers that powerfully speak to the black experience in America and the country’s history with slavery.
In one musical sequence, the family, dressed as slaves, performs a song titled “Juneteenth,” which acknowledges the struggles that persist for black people after freedom is granted. In the other, titled “We Built This,” the family sings searing lyrics that recognize the contributions of black Americans and the respect and freedom they are owed.
“Railroads, Wall Street, the White House and universities,” the Johnsons sing in “We Built This.”
“UVA? We built that. Chapel Hill? We built that,” they go on.
At the end of the sequence, Dre rips his shirt open to reveal another that reads the phrase: “I AM MY ANCESTORS’ WILDEST DREAMS.”
Anderson, who stopped by BUILD last week to talk about the new season of “black-ish,” watched the clip for the first time and was immediately moved to tears.
“Given what’s going on in today’s society right now, taking a knee, given what’s going on with inner-city youth and police brutality, I think this is right on time,” he said.
Toward the end of the episode, the Johnson family realizes they never celebrated Juneteeth themselves and Dre vows to change that tradition ― and although he hoped to have all Americans celebrating the holiday, he recognizes that it’s important to do that with his loved ones first.
“This is our family,” Anderson said on BUILD, going on to explain why he thinks “black-ish” has become such a success. “I think our show resonates with the audience the way it does because of the authenticity and truthfulness we show through these stories.”
“black-ish” airs every Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST on ABC.