'Mixed-ish' showrunner explains how Hollywood (still) makes inclusion hard to achieve

Yvonne Villarreal, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES -- "Mixed-ish," which premiered this fall, is the second series spun off from ABC's popular sitcom "black-ish" -- joining Freeform's coming-of-age comedy "grown-ish." And if "Mixed-ish" showrunner Karin Gist has her way, the show will provoke conversation.

The '80s-set prequel follows a teenage Rainbow Johnson -- the character popularized by Tracee Ellis Ross in "black-ish," played here by Arica Himmel -- and the experiences of her mixed-race family when they transition from a commune to mainstream living. The show, like its predecessor, has delved into some complex material involving racial identity -- the handling of which has garnered both praise and criticism.

"We are very, very clear that there is no version of making everyone happy, nor is that our intent," Gist said on a recent afternoon. "We just want to make it feel right and honest for the show, and for our characters, and reflect the world as best we can."

The freshman comedy, which was recently granted a full-season order, is the second series Gist has guided as showrunner. She previously headed Fox's short-lived girl-group melodrama "Star." Gist, a former family law attorney, shoved her foot in the Hollywood door after attending a taping of UPN's "Girlfriends." She had been developing her writing, even enrolling in a boot camp at Santa Monica's Bergamot Station Arts Center. While leaving the taping, Gist introduced herself to one of the writers on the show, Bernadette Luckett, with the help of the audience warm-up comedian.

"1/8Bernadette3/8 talked to me and gave me a list of books to read and gave me her number and tore it off that night's script that she had in her hand," Gist recalled. "I took it and put it in my Rolodex back at the law firm, and then I started writing."

Gist wrote a "Will & Grace" spec script, and after Gist revised it with notes from Luckett, the script made its way to "Girlfriends" showrunner Mara Brock Akil. Gist was eventually hired in Season 5 and would go on to work on such shows as "One Tree Hill," "House of Lies" and "Grey's Anatomy."


Sitting on the terrace of her Los Feliz home, Gist talked about tackling race and identity on a broadcast comedy, creating opportunities for others and where things stand with the "Sister Act 3" script she has in development with Disney+. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

'There is a trust level because of what "black-ish" did'

We are trying to have a show about identity and inclusion. It's about Rainbow and her African American mother and white father, so there's conversations about race around that. But at the end of the day, we want everyone to watch it who feels othered or marginalized and see a little girl struggling to find her voice and find her space and step out on faith, because I think that's a universal story.

The goal is to have people come to the show and watch the stories and see themselves in that. The goal of the show is to be a place for everybody to connect.


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