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Guest Column: How black-ish Finally Cracked Its Black Hair Episode

Courtney Lilly, the showrunner and an executive producer of black-ish, wrote this guest column about the Season 6 episode of the sitcom, “Hair Day,” which aired Tuesday, Jan. 7 on ABC.

For years, we’ve wanted to do an episode about black women and their hair, but hadn’t found a way to crack it — and for good reason. It’s a huge subject, and one you can easily get wrong.

Since we’re a network comedy in an age when few are paying attention to network comedies, I figured we had nothing to lose. So, this summer, I asked writer Marquita Robinson to start thinking about the kind of black hair story we wanted to tell. The only direction I gave her was: “I don’t want this to be what we usually do.”

Super helpful, right?

Well, she ran with it and started talking to the over two dozen black women who work in every department of our show, from camera operators to producers to production assistants, getting their hair stories in all their beauty, humor, and humanity. From those conversations, we decided we wanted to tell a story that celebrated every black woman’s hair journey by peeking behind the curtain to the unseen labor that goes into every weave, braid, and up-do, which is fitting, because television is, itself, a lot about unseen labor. Those same camera operators, producers, and production assistants are as vital to the successful running of a show as the actors, directors, and writers. Making an episode of television really is a team sport.

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One of my favorite moments in the making of the episode came in the editing bay, during a music spotting session. The entire team of producers and editors are there, and we’re discussing the transition between scenes before Marsai Martin’s “James Brown via Eddie Murphy” moment. The question on the table was: Are we being clear enough that water is the enemy of Diane’s desired hairstyle? After a little back and forth, Bianca Ray, a member of our post-production staff, spoke up with “Black women will get it.” And with that, we had our answer.

As Hollywood continues to focus on the need for greater diversity, we’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we limit our attention to just the famous faces who make the industry trades. We couldn’t have made this episode without every one of those talented, diverse, incredible women.

That is what I’m most proud of. Well, that, and that we got Jill Scott to write that amazing song (featured in the clip above). I can’t get it out of my head.

black-ish airs Tuesdays at 9:30/8:30c on ABC.

(Disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of Viacom CBS)

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