Black-ish gave us a week to prepare ourselves for last night’s episode and its controversial guest. Most of us rolled our eyes when we found out Chris Brown had been cast to guest star on the show. Apparently, we were justified in doing do, because “Rich Youngsta” was a huge let down.
Have you ever visited a friend’s house for dinner and they have an elaborate table spread that doesn’t feel natural to their home at all? That’s what this episode felt like — it was forcefully put together for its guest. I’d bet any amount of money it went down like this: Brown’s team worked out a deal with some disliked higher-up on Black-ish to get the role. Said higher-up became even more disliked after the rest of the team had to then scramble to build an episode around Brown's appearance. The story line — Dre, utilizing his Black expertise, brings in a popular rapper to help conceive an advertising campaign for Champagne — is wholly unoriginal. Even the bickering between Bow and Ruby over Bow’s parenting skills is uninspiring. Last night Black-ish failed to do what it does best, which is make us think differently, or at least critically, about things that might normally go unnoticed or taken for granted.
Rappers rarely get a good rap on TV. Almost always, stereotypes about them being flashy, uninformed, materialistic, self-centered, and shallow fuel the way they’re depicted on screen. I expected a show like Black-ish to demystify that trope a little. Instead, they wrote Rich Youngsta as a disengaged musician whose first line was basically, “Imma need a big ass check.” He proceeds to dance, sing, and pour Champagne on people, places, and things as part of his deal with Dre’s advertising agency. It’s not until the Johnson family reacts that Dre realizes this portrayal is irresponsible.
Black-ish could have done anything with its guest character. What if Rich Youngsta was actually a yogi and regularly attended BronyCon? It would have been hilarious to have Dre come to the same realization — that Black people have a unique burden of responsibility for upholding their race — by refusing to succumb to pressure from his coworkers to keep Rich Youngsta “on brand” as a stereotypical rapper. This would have done double duty, both calling out how stereotypes about rappers appeal to white people’s assumptions about race, and pushing back on the idea that rappers are one-dimensional. It was the least they could have done after casting Chris Brown.
There’s no nice way to say this, but Chris Brown is one of the most disliked dudes in the industry. This role, which is likely to get more views than any of his Instagram rants, could have been a little redeeming moment for him as well. Instead, he seemed to be playing a fictional version of the person we all hate.
Black-ish threw away an episode last night. I feel just as disappointed as Bow and Ruby did when they saw Rich Youngsta pour Champagne on a Black woman to turn her white.