W. Kamau Bell’s United Shades of America became infamous for its first episode, “The New KKK,” in 2016. In the series opener, Bell attends a cross-burning ceremony and interviews hooded Klansmen. At the end of the cross burning, Bell poignantly states, “I actually feel lucky. Unlike most of the black people in this country who have been present for a cross burning, I get to leave.”
What many don’t know is that not only was “The New KKK” the first episode of United Shades of America, but the cross burning also took place on Bell’s first day of filming.
“People of color wouldn’t have started me on the cross burning,” Bell told The Root. “They’d say, ‘Let’s work our way up.’ But the all-white crew I had said, ‘Why don’t we just start with the cross burning?’”
For Bell, this moment reinforced the importance of having a diverse production crew.
“I made it super clear to all the people I worked with that I wasn’t going to go forward with the show under the circumstances,” says Bell. “A lot of those people in the first season didn’t make it to the second season and the third season.”
The third season of United Shades of America premiered on CNN on April 29. Two seasons after the notorious KKK episode, Bell’s main goal is to amplify neglected voices and, more than anything, inspire hope.
“I’m trying to get people to choose hope in a way that I don’t think we’ve really leaned into in the last couple seasons,” he says. “We’re really trying to highlight people who don’t get the microphone enough.”
Watch the interview above.