"Kenan," Image by Caesy Durkin/NBC

Kenan Thompson On Kenan & Representation of Black Father Figures

12:00 April 19, 2021
By: Emil Flemmon

"The conversations are happening and changes are being made." ~ Kenan Thompson

When thinking of major primetime television networks, the big wigs are NBC, ABC, FOX, and CBS. However, NBC has had a long history of high rated and successful television shows with Black leads such as Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, A Different World, 227, Different Strokes, and, in the present day, Kenan.

With the quality of those shows, networks have had to make better contributions of modern-day representation for people of color and their audiences. Since the evolution of the #MeTooMovement, in addition to controversial #BlackLivesMatter era, networks have upped the ante with Black leads that honor leadership, heroic acts, and, most importantly, the building of new archetypes that mirrors what's been in existence.

Kenan Thompson, veteran comedic actor known for his roles in Good Burger, All That, SNL, and his self-entitled show Kenan, has found himself transitioning with the times quite easily.

Kenan tells the story of a news weatherman raising school aged children as a single parent since the death of his wife. According to Characteristics of Children's Families from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, African American homes have the highest rate of single parent households with mothers only, while fathers take second place, and two parent households coming in a low third.

When Thompson was asked how he felt regarding representation of strong Black fathers being seen on television now, he said, "It's absolutely necessary. You can't have programming be beneficial to audiences, especially Black audiences, without seeing what they see." He added an important factor that's relatable to many, saying, "Not every Black person grows up without a father and we show that on the show because it's a need for it."

Father figure roles in Black households have had a significant impact in culture, along with stereotypes that are not always befitting to society. Iconic figures such as Uncle Phil, James from Good Times, Carl Winslow from Family Matters, and, of course, Bill Cosby from one of NBCs longest running shows in history, The Bill Cosby Show, have served a purpose in idealism.

Thompson revealed, "The honor of those characters were a part of those eras and that's gold. You see Kenan working to foster his family while being vulnerable and, sometimes, we don't get enough of that from Black fathers." He also claimed, "I had family time as a little boy and I valued that and I value it today with my own family. The show doesn't give a reality that I don't know, but instead, it gives a reality that's a part of me."

Not only has Thompson embraced representation, but he also assisted in incorporating Black art on the show from artist Chloe Mackenzie. Mackenzie was posting her artwork during quarantine and, with the power of Instagram, she was contacted by the show's set designer who was looking for Black female representation. During a recent interview with the South Bend Tribune, she explained as to how she received the kind recognition. "I got a message from the designer." She didn't take it seriously right away. "I Googled it, and it was legitimate. I was so excited."

Thompson concluded, saying, "NBC has been good to me and the others on the show. They choose to understand, which gives the result that's needed."

Kenan airs on NBC Tuesday nights at 8:30p.m. ET/PT.

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