At the dentist a few weeks ago with my son, the TV in the waiting room was playing a television show called Family Reunion. It’s a sitcom that debuted in the summer of 2019 that chronicles the changes when a former pro-football tight-end named Moses “Moz” McKellan and his wife Cocoa and four children travel from Seattle to Columbus, Georgia to be with Moz’s family, and decide to stay in order to be closer to the family.
It just so happens that the family in question, the McKellans, are black, as are most of the show’s characters. I say this only because of some interesting aspects of how there are aspects of this show–positive aspects, mostly–that you would never see in a modern TV show about a white family.
A word about the casting first: Family Reunion features many excellent actors from other shows and movies, and I’m happy to see them continue to get screen time. For starters, the mighty Richard Roundtree plays Moz’s father Grandpa, the family patriarch. Grandpa is a pastor. For any readers who don’t know Richard Roundtree, he is most famous for playing private eye John Shaft in the 1970s film adaptations of Ernest Tidyman’s novel.
Veteran film and Broadway actress Loretta Devine plays M’Dear, Moz’s mother, and she’s wonderful. Tia Mowry, who was famous for being on the TV show Sister, Sister with her real-life twin sister Tamera, plays Cocoa, and Anthony Alabi, who actually was a pro-football player, plays Moz. Other famous actors have supporting roles or cameos, such as Jaleel White, Tempest Bledsoe, Mark Curry, and Telma Hopkins. I know these and many of the other guest-stars listed on the show’s Wikipedia page from the sitcoms of my 90s youth.
Now, I grew up in an era where white kids watched TV shows about black families, hugely popular shows like The Cosby Show, Family Matters, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and didn’t care that the characters on our TVs looked different than us. The 90s–the early 90s especially–was a wild time where we actually believed the “color blind” and “content of character” stuff we were taught. That is not the case now. Here in the thick of the 21st century, race is all that matters in America. It’s a very different time.
Anyway, two episodes stood out while we were waiting in the dentist’s office. The first was more topical in that it touched on problems the black community faces with the police. At the outset, I have to mention that the show is very charming and wholesome, and while I know I keep referencing the 1990s, Family Reunion is very much in that late-80s/early-90s heartwarming loving family vein a la The Cosby Show. Second, the family is firmly upper-middle-class, as is their town, and Maya Angelou High School is full of high-achieving young black boys and girls. You understand the message the show is trying to send in how it portrays its world, and I approve . . . but I’ll have more to say about this later.
Anyway, in this episode, Moz and Cocoa’s two sons Shaka and Mazzi, along with their neighbor Elvis, have a friendly competition to see who can mow the most lawns and earn the most money; standard, typical, wholesome Americana kind of stuff that would be at home on an episode of Leave it to Beaver or something. Anyway, they are out cutting lawns too late, and unbeknownst to them both their parents are at a trivia night at the local pub with some friends, their sisters are being watched by other family, and their grandparents are also out on a date–and each thinks the boys are with another family member. So when the boys return home and try to get back into the McKellan’s home, a white cop comes and pulls a gun on them, finds the money they’d earned but thinks they stole it, and holds them until the parents arrive.
Moz and Cocoa return, and find the boys still handcuffed and frightened out of their wits. The parents are horrified, of course, explain everything, and manage to hold in their anger. The cop is, as expected, a jerk about it, calling the ten-year-old boys “young men,” and then asking for Moz’s autograph. Moz and Cocoa have to explain these dynamics to their frightened sons, and this is of course inspired by the racial violence that has been gripping America for several years. It’s an intense scene, but I couldn’t help but be taken out of it by the fact that a cop would literally have to be mustache-twirling evil to (a) think that three ten- and eleven-year-old boys are “young men,” or “thugs,” especially when they’re (and this may ruffle some feathers) clean-cut, well-spoken, well-behaved, AND CAN EXPLAIN THAT THIS IS THEIR FREAKING HOUSE. Yet he holds them up at gunpoint. It’s ridiculous.
What works better is, after Moz and Cocoa register a complaint against the officer, they get pulled over on the way home after another trivia night some days later. It’s the same cop. He wants to test Moz for being drunk, and then basically tells Moz and Cocoa he’ll be keeping an eye on them, and he didn’t appreciate losing pay the way he did. This is a much more plausible scenario to show what blacks face at the hands of vindictive and racist small-town cops. It works also because whites in small towns face the same thing–I personally know instances where cops harass people in town due to personal grudges, and it has nothing to do with race. This isn’t to diminish the racial aspect of these situations; I’m only saying that it works in this show for multi-colored audiences because multi-colored audiences can relate.
The episode after this began with the McKellans and their neighbors and friends, some white, celebrating the news that this bad cop had been fired. And then we get into a more perosnally interesting aspect of black entertainment that is handled far differently than in white entertainment: Christianity.
Grandpa is a preacher, and M’Dear is a devout Christian herself. Cocoa is kind of New Age-y and gets fed up with M’Dear thinking of her as a “heathen.” The McKellan children–teenage Jade, Shaka, Mazzi, and little Ami–have not been raised religious at all . . . and Moz himself is pretty much agnostic. The conflict of this episode is Ami–she wants to get baptised and so is speaking with her grandparents about the process. She’s scared, because in Grandpa’s church, baptism actually requires getting dunked in a river. Ami then, with typical little-kid innocence, asks her parents if they are baptised. When they say no, she asks why, and this inspires Grandpa to ask why none of the kids have been.
Jade is, of course, not into the religion thing, and neither are the boys . . . though there’s another subplot where Shaka, Mazzi, Elvis, and another friend have a singing group that Grandpa agrees to let sing at the church, but their hip-hop–what Grandpa calls “devil music”–does not go over well.
Anyway, Moz and Cocoa, out of respect to Grandpa and M’Dear, talk to the kids about religion to see if they want to be baptized. In the course of this, Moz realizes he got so turned off by having religion “shoved down my throat” while growing up a preacher’s son, he just left it behind when he moved away.
What got me about this part of the show is that it was so earnest, sincere, and even-handed. Characters discussed spirituality, what they believed in and why, and what they didn’t believe in and why, in a very mature way. Further, the name Jesus Christ was spoken many, many times. If you’re used to “white” entertainment where Christianity is routinely mocked and ridiculed, and Christiains are portrayed as ultra-corrupt super-hypocrites and bigots who are probably secretly self-loathing gays, this is refreshing and a little shocking. There’d probably be an incest or other weird sex plot thrown in to boot.
Thus conditioned, this episode did not go where I expected.
While practicing baptism with Ami in the pool by the river where Grandpa conducts this sacrament, Moz slips, goes under the water, and hits his head. When he wakes up, he’s in the same place, but all alone. He walks around and, in the woods, sees a vision of his grandparents, long dead. They look happy, and tell Moz it’s not his time, but that they’re fine.
Moz, of course, has questions. I’m paraphrasing, but one of them is “Is God real?”
“You already know the answer to that,” says his smiling grandfather. They then fade out, the screen goes black, and Moz wakes up surrounded by his family and EMTs. Turns out Ami was able to get some help in time to save her father.
We then cut to the baptism where, after Grandpa baptises Ami, Moz walks over for his turn to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
It was, and I say this without hyperbole, a beautiful piece of TV. And it was one you would never, ever see on a mainstream show about a white family.
I wondered why this was. White Americans are as religious as black Americans, and that religion is usually some form of Protestant Christianity. As an Orthodox Christian, it’s interesting to note that lots of Africans are Orthodox, particularly Ethiopians–when I lived in the D.C./northern Virginia area, there were a lot of Ethiopian Orthodox Churches, and a lot of Ethiopian families at the Greek Orthodox Church we went to. So it’s not like Christianity is a “black” thing or a “white” thing, as many try to claim.
Why is this, then?
I looked into show creator, Meg LeLoatch. She’s very political and racially minded, and in articles about the show, I discovered an entirely unsurpsing fact: she wanted an all-black writing room, and by God, she got it.
Therefore, this show is written in a way that makes the McKellan family, and black Americans in general, look good, and it portrays aspects of black culture in a positive light.
I have no problem with this, or an all-black writing room. All I would ask for is the same courtesy given to other races. But I digress.
Entertainment and stories are important, and I think a show like Family Reunion is a pretty powerful counter to entertainment made by whites–the vast majority being non-Christian and non-Gentile–that have not portrayed black culture and black families in a, shall we say, nice manner.
Black writers would obviously have more insights into the world of black Americans than a bunch of white or Jewish writers, the same way black writers wouldn’t have insight into Jewish culture, or Jewish and black and atheist writers wouldn’t have into white Christian culture. If blacks want to create their own entertainment that promotes positive messages, I am all for it. It’s important to note that, at least in the episodes playing while I was waiting in the dentist’s office, there was nothing anti-white in any of these episodes. There was nothing anti-anything, save for anti-police . . . yet the episode also didn’t condemn all police forces in general.
Which brings me to the point of this episode. Black entertainment is able to do things that white entertainment can’t. A pro-Christian mainstream white show would be called all sorts of nasty names, propaganda among the least nasty. There’d be the alphabet groups demanding representation, racial-grievance groups calling it racist, somehow; atheist and non-Chriatian comedians calling it lame and stupid and so on, and probably Jewish and Muslim groups calling it harmful to their faith. You know I’m right.
This is why I completely agree with black entertainers who want black entertainment. Good for them. It’s the only way to counter the disgusting narratives Hollywood has been pushing about almost every group. Sick of TV shows and movies portraying blacks as either criminals and gangbangers, low-IQ buffoons in need of white help, and otherwise perpetual victims? Make your own show. And kudos to DeLoatch for doing this, and not trying to usurp a previously existing show or other property.
Every group should strive to do what DeLoatch did with Family Reunion. As a white Christian, scanning the writers rooms of popular shows and movies, and the ownership of various production companies, it’s no wonder that Hollywood makes us look so, so bad.
If you want to support a Christian writer, my book The Last Ancestor is on special Labor Day Weekend sale for the next few days. Buy it here.