“I saw a meme one day and it said, ‘Where would Zoey go to college?’ I was like, ‘This is a f—ing show.’ That was my lightbulb moment,” Barris told Variety at the “Grown-ish” premiere at Lure Nightclub in Hollywood on Wednesday night.
The image sparked “Grown-ish,” an offshoot following the Johnsons’ eldest daughter, Zoey, portrayed by Yara Shahidi, as she heads to college.
The Freeform series tackles contemporary issues facing college students. “We wanted to make sure we gave as honest an experience of what this walk is as possible,” Barris said. “This is a generation with a lot to say.”
Shahidi said she hopes the show shatters misconceptions about millennials, adding, “The one thing my generation is good at is finding a model for success.”
Chris Parnell, who plays the college’s dean, praised Barris’ ability to balance comedy and truth.
“The way Kenya gets into issues so fearlessly is amazing,” he said. “It gives it a lot more resonance and meaning and weight.”
After a screening of the first two episodes, the cast, including Francia Raisa, Trevor Jackson, and Jordan Buhat, sat down for a Q&A addressing the show’s key themes.
“I’ve had to relate to whiteness for a very long time. For many people of any sort of background, whether you are POC, you’re a woman, you’re an immigrant, there’s a certain having to relate to mainstream culture when mainstream culture finds it unnecessary to relate to you,” Shahidi said during the panel. “What’s really special about this is each character is not monolithic and not telling the usual story in any sort of way.”
Also in attendance were Freeform president Tom Ascheim and Karey Burke, the network’s executive vice president of programming and development. Cast members Chloe and Halle Bailey, known on stage as Chloe x Halle, performed the “Grown-ish” theme song at the after-party at Le Jardin.