Sometimes the hardest conversations to have also prove to be the most necessary ones to engage in. Such appears to be the case with W. Kamau Bell’s newly released docuseries, We Need to Talk About Cosby, which explores the “complex story of Cosby’s life and work,” chronicling his “descent from “America’s Dad” to alleged sexual predator.”
Initially debuting at Sundance Film Festival and premiering for the general public over the weekend on Showtime, audiences watched episode one as it detailed Cosby’s “accolades for his comedy, breaking barriers for Black stunt performers and finding his own ways of participating in the nation’s sexual liberation and civil rights movement. All the while, he allegedly begins exploiting his power.”
The topic of Cosby and his grotesque behavior juxtaposed against his status as a positive Black American icon is hard to broach, especially among those who grew up with, knew and loved him—whether from afar or up close. And it’s for that reason that Bell says he was “worried” about how viewers would react to the things played out on their screen.
“I’m very worried about it,” Bell explained to People. “It is a very charged situation — especially with him getting out of prison, it becomes even more charged. This is for people who grew up in Cosby’s America. It is a difficult thing to talk about. I think the documentary is more nuanced than a lot of people were expecting, or a lot more complicated. I sit here, and I’m still not sure how I will come through this on the other side.”
He added, “I believe these survivors, and I wish we could just celebrate Bill Cosby as I think we would, if at this point in his life, as somebody who had just did the good things he did. He did a lot of good things. But, the story is more complicated than that, and it’s not just about him. There are lots of powerful men in show business and media who have done awful things, but as a Black person, this is the hardest one to deal with.”
He further explained:
This whole thing was always about trying to tell a more complete version of the story so you can learn more of a complete lesson. Some people aren’t as aware of all the things he did do... if you don’t know that he integrated the stunt industry for Black performers, or if you don’t know that he was a part of hiring Black people behind the camera on The Cosby Show, who still owe their start in showbiz to him, we’re losing history if we don’t talk about those things. “I was sitting with the survivors, I think when we see them in the news sometimes we just see them at the point where they’re crying or upset, or we see them reduced to that moment — but when you sit down and talk with them, you realize they’re fully functional, three-dimensional human beings. They had this thing happen that they wish didn’t happen, but it doesn’t define their whole life.
I think that’s one thing we’re trying to do in here is show these women outside of their lives and their opinions outside of their relationship to Bill Cosby or their time with Bill Cosby. The other thing is that when you start to understand how Bill Cosby was with these women, he would be working just as hard at his predation as he was at his career. “That’s a balance we tried to achieve. No matter if you really agree about the survivors, no matter what you think about the survivors, there’s got to be something to learn from this. Ironically, Bill Cosby was always one of our teachers, who wanted us to learn and help our community. It is super painful, super troubling and super disturbing, but [we have to deal with it] to make the future better.”
In light of the docuseries, Cosby spokesperson Andrew Wyatt has responded, calling Bell’s work nothing more that a “PR hack” in a statement.
“Let’s talk about Bill Cosby,” it begins. “Mr. Cosby has spent more than 50 years standing with the excluded; made it possible for some to be included; standing with the disenfranchised; and standing with those women and men who were denied respectful work…because of race and gender … within the expanses of the entertainment industries. Let’s talk about Bill Cosby. Mr. Cosby continues to be the target of numerous media that have, for too many years, distorted and omitted truths...intentionally. Despite media’s repetitive reports of allegations against Mr. Cosby, none have ever been proven in any court of law. “
Let’s talk about Bill Cosby. In June, 2021, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court released Mr. Cosby; and the court’s Chief Justice defined the Pennsylvania Montgomery County District Attorney’s behavior as reprehensible. “Let’s talk about Bill Cosby. Mr. Cosby knows the realities of prosecutorial violations; and that those violations are threats to the integrity of our nation’s criminal justice systems. That is a subject matter for a professional documentary. “Let’s talk about Bill Cosby. Mr. Cosby vehemently denies all allegations waged against him. Let’s talk about Bill Cosby. He wants our nation to be what it proclaims itself to be: a democracy.”
The second episode of We Need to Talk About Cosby premieres Sunday, Feb. 6 only on Showtime.