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"We Need To Talk About Cosby" Takes Look at Comedian's Complicated Legacy

Source: Kelly Sullivan / Getty

Comedian W. Kamau Bell, popular for his FXX show Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and the CNN series United Shades of America, has a new four-part documentary series called We Need To Talk About Cosby. “Bill Cosby had been one of my heroes,” he admits in the two-minute trailer. “I’m a Black man, standup comic. I was born in the ’70s. But this…? This was f*cked up! What do we do with everything we know about Bill Cosby and what we know?”

Rolling Stone announced the project last month, and Bell gave a statement at that time. “As a child of Bill Cosby, I was a huge fan of all his shows and wanted to be a comedian because of him,” he said. “I never thought I’d ever wrestle with who we all thought Cosby was and who we now understand him to be. I’m not sure he would want me to do this work, but Cliff Huxtable definitely would.”

The 84-year-old comedian had long been hailed as “America’s Dad” for his portrayal of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable on his landmark 80’s sitcom The Cosby Show. More so, his extensive body of work – which ranges from programs like I, Spy and The Electric Company to the animated series Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids – was deliberate in showing Black characters in a positive light, which landed him as one the top statesmen of Black America.

Cosby’s problematic 2004 “Pound Cake” speech was the first major sign of the disconnect between him and the younger generations, though. But it would be one decade later when comedian Hannibal Burress’ rape joke changed the outlook on Cosby from a “grumpy old man” to a long-time sexual predator.

Similar to R. Kelly, the question becomes how do we separate the art from the artist, especially when their works comprise the soundtracks/backdrops of the culture? Is it possible? And should we?

Esteemed actress Phylicia Rashad, who played alongside Cosby as his spouse on both The Cosby Show and his second eponymous sitcom, found herself having to backtrack comments that upset Cosby’s accusers. “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!” she first tweeted upon news of Cosby’s release from prison.

After public outcry, Rashad deleted the tweet and posted an apology. “My remarks were in no way directed towards survivors of sexual assault,” she wrote. “I vehemently oppose sexual violence, find no excuse for such behavior, and I know that Howard University has a zero-tolerance policy toward interpersonal violence.”

Jasmine Guy, best known for playing Southern belle Whitey Gilbert on A Different World, said she only met Cosby a handful of times but is disappointed because of how his off-screen actions now mar the impact of his work. “It’s heartbreaking for those of us in the business that admire him, his talent and his mind — and then as a Black person, it’s heartbreaking because he meant a lot to the community,” she told Page Six.

Professor Marc Lamont Hill says “Cosby was our teacher” in Bell’s docuseries, and Roland Martin reminds viewers that we “can’t speak about Black America in the 20th century and not talk about Bill Cosby.”

We Need To Talk About Cosby will air via virtual screening at 12 p.m. EDT on January 22 at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. You can also watch the four-part documentary beginning Sunday, January 30 on Showtime.

Photo: Kelly Sullivan / Getty