A difficult topic gets an honest conversation

We Need to Talk About Cosby, Showtime’s four-part documentary series, examines the alleged crimes of Bill Cosby – and the legacy that gave him power.

Writer-director W. Kamau Bell has his work prepared for him with We need to talk about Cosby. The four-part Showtime documentary series examines the two sides of Bill Cosby: the groundbreaking icon who shattered multiple glass ceilings, redefining what it meant to be a black man in Hollywood, and the alleged serial rapist who exploited his paternal image from pop culture to gas. its many, many victims. It’s an uncomfortable subject, especially since the disgraced actor’s sexual assault conviction was just overturned in October 2021. Still, Bell acknowledges that this is something for the public to face, and he offers the public We need to talk about Cosby, which examines Bill Cosby’s alleged crimes as well as the legacy that gave him power.

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Bell is careful to frame the story from his perspective – as a black man who was raised on “America’s Dad”, the highly ambitious model, Bill Cosby. We need to talk about Cosby is divided into four episodes, roughly presenting the content in chronological order. The first entry focuses on the early years of Cosby’s career, setting up the beginnings of what would become his massive social influence. Using various interviews with actors and journalists, Bell explains why the comedian’s stand-up comedy was so revolutionary in the early ’60s and how he landed a role on the prime-time television series. I spy broke new ground for black men in the entertainment industry.


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We still have to talk about Cosby

We need to talk about Cosby offers an honest portrait of Bill Cosby’s legacy in 2022. It’s a refreshingly candid conversation that recognizes the positive work Cosby did for his community, especially in the 60s and 70s. For younger audiences, it’s all too tempting to turn Bill Cosby’s icon into a sweater-wearing, pudding-pudding punchline — which, of course, makes it all the more difficult for his many apologists and loyal supporters to understand. For older audiences, especially those in black communities who viewed the actor as a father figure, being “high” on him as Bell states, it’s nearly impossible to reconcile the dozens of horrific abuse allegations with the pioneer, humanitarian, and educator they had come to love over the past half-century. Bell explores this tension, bringing to light a difficult truth: yes, Cosby did all of these things in the public eye, but he was also a freak behind closed doors.


It is clear from the start that We need to talk about Cosby is less interested in the man and more in his impact. That’s not to say the documentary is trying to paint the comedian in a sympathetic light or downplay his predatory behavior, quite the contrary. the documentary focuses on the stories of those who were in its orbit, offering biographical details as context for its influence. Journalists, former peers and victims can all share their stories about Cosby – from Gloria Hendry reminiscing about the struggles of being a working black actor in the 70s, to Kierna Mayo, former editor of Ebonydescribing the fallout from the infamous #CosbyVsCliff cover in 2015. Neither woman was assaulted by the actor, but both were deeply affected by his heinous acts.



photo of Bill Cosby in We Need To Talk About Cosby

Many victims have the opportunity to tell their story in We need to talk about Cosby without having to dwell on sinister details. Like Surviving R. Kellythe Showtime documentary series unearths the story, offering a timeline and establishing a baseline pattern of predatory behavior to demonstrate the extent of Cosby’s sexual encounters with non-consenting women. One of the concerns of documentaries of this nature is the fine line between offering honest testimony and exploiting trauma in favor of a dramatic narrative. Fortunately, Bell handles the subject with nuance and sensitivity.


A while ago in We need to talk about Cosby when a victim struggles to tell her story, and Bell suggests that her husband join her on the couch to offer emotional support. The two gaze lovingly at each other in silence for a minute before the woman continues. It’s a welcome, tender, sweet respite during a difficult part of the documentary series. It was a choice to include this sweet moment of compassion – rather than circumvent it – and it says a lot about the underlying message of We need to talk about Cosby: America today is divided and the only way forward requires kindness, support and love.

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We need to talk about Cosby airs Sundays on Showtime from January 30.

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About the Author

Jessica C. Bell