The famously shelved episode of Black-ish will finally see the light.
As creator Kenya Barris has hinted in recent months, Disney is making the controversial 2018 half-hour available with the rest of the comedy’s library at streamer Hulu. The episode — which featured Dre, the Johnson family patriarch played by Anthony Anderson, telling his infant son, Devante, a bedtime story that reflected on the events of his first year on earth — was supposed to roll out in the back half of the Emmy-nominated series’ fourth season. Mere days before its scheduled Feb. 27 air date, “Please, Baby, Please” was mysteriously and indefinitely shelved. The move turned out to be the last straw in Barris’ long-standing relationship with The Walt Disney Co. Not long after, he moved his business from ABC Studios to Netflix.
The episode, as THR reported in a 2018 cover, story offered 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,” Barris said at the time. “So, this was about me trying to pat the butt of the country and soothe people.” With the studio’s blessing, production is said to have spent handsomely on rights and clearances for certain songs. He also enlisted a high-profile illustrator, 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.
While Barris has long been strategic with his word choice — careful never to employ the phrase “censorship” as many others have — his cast has been far less diplomatic. Star Tracee Ellis Ross famously called the decision “frightening,” while Anderson suggested in that THR cover story that 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,” said the actor, who is also an EP. “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.”
That the infamous episode will now be widely available comes as Hollywood is undergoing a cultural reckoning in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody. In fact, in the days and weeks immediately following, ABC re-aired two powerful episodes of the series that touched on themes including police brutality. In a statement, Barris noted that the move to reinstate “Please, Baby, Please” in the Black-ish library began with him asking ABC Entertainment — now run by an entirely new set of executives — if it would reconsider its past decision to keep the 30-minute episode unaired. It was made widely available today.
Here’s Barris’ full statement on the about-face:
In November 2017, we made an episode of “black-ish” entitled “Please, Baby, Please.” We were one year post-election and coming to the end of a year that left us, like many Americans, grappling with the state of our country and anxious about its future. Those feelings poured onto the page, becoming 22 minutes of television that I was, and still am, incredibly proud of. “Please, Baby, Please” didn’t make it to air that season and, while much has been speculated about its contents, the episode has never been seen publicly… until now.
I’m excited to share that “Please, Baby, Please” is now available on Hulu. Following the re-airing of “Juneteenth” and “Hope,” I asked Walt Disney Television to revisit making the episode available. Recognizing the importance of this moment, they listened and agreed.
I cannot wait for everyone to finally see the episode for themselves and, as was the case nearly three years ago, we hope it inspires some much-needed conversation — not only about what we were grappling with then or how it led to where we are now, but conversations about where we want our country to go moving forward and, most importantly, how we get there together.
Thank you to ABC Entertainment for allowing this moment to happen. And thank you to the entire “black-ish” family for never shying away from tough conversations, making telling stories like this possible.