The Real Rainbow: “black-ish” Inspiration Dr. Rainbow Edwards Barris on Parenting, Marriage, and What You Don’t See on TV
Posted on May 22, 2018 at 8:00 am
Last weekend at DC’s first-ever Momference, doctor, mother of six, and inspiration for her namesake character on the hit television series, “black-ish,” Rainbow Edwards-Barris described a conversation she had with one of her sons after he was less than polite to her friend. “I told him to treat a girl like she is treasured and honored and honorable,” she said. “It is important to instill in my boys especially.” The Momference was a truly inspiring event “designed to Engage, Equip and Empower the melanated, millennial mom.” I wrote about it for Medium. Edwards-Barris was one of the highlights and I had a chance to talk to her one-on-one about her new book, written in the voice of the character she inspired, Dr. Rainbow Johnson, portrayed by Tracee Ellis Ross.
Dr. Barris told me that she recently discovered notes she had made nine years ago, long before “black-ish,” with some of her thoughts about parenting, and that helped her begin to think about what she wanted to cover in her wise, funny, and inspiring book. I asked if she ever found herself doing something her mother did that she swore she would never do, and she admitted she had finally resorted to a “Because I said so.” But “I corrected myself. I went back and told him I made a mistake. I said, ‘You’re teaching me as much as I hope I’m teaching you.’” She said that her husband, Kenya Barris, asked how she would feel about a storyline on “black-ish” about the Johnsons having marital problems. “I was very supportive that it show this side of the couple, so people know they’re not alone. No one’s life is perfect. Couples go through tough times but it is not not repairable, not something that can’t be overcome, not something that can’t be a lesson.” The book gives you “the episodes you don’t see on television, and it gives you Rainbow’s perspective.” Both Rainbows.
Bilge Ebiri explores the real story behind one of the most indelible movies of the 1970’s, Dog Day Afternoon. The gritty reality of Sidney Lumet’s direction, the strangeness of the story (according to the film, the motive for the robbery was money to pay for the sex reassignment surgery of the transgendered romantic partner of one of the robbers) and the stunning performances by Al Pacino, John Cazale, and Chris Sarandon captured the moment. Audiences of the era remembered the bungled bank robbery as it unfolded, with the hapless criminals stuck inside the surrounded bank ordering pizzas and the hostages and the crowd outside rooting for the robbers.
Dunkirk was in most ways a loss, the Allies driven by the enemy to the shore and trapped there to be picked off. But it became a moral and morale victory that has resonated for nearly seventy years. It is featured in two films this year. “Their Finest” depicts a fictionalized version of the WWII propaganda operation that selected the rescue at Dunkirk as ideal for reassuring the British civilians. And Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” is a gorgeously filmed re-telling that is grand in scope but intimate in focus. While some of the details and characters are imagined, the overall story is true.
To learn more about the real story of the heroic evacuation of more than 300,000 men, watch some of the documentaries about the rescue operation.
“The Zookeeper’s Wife,” starring Jessica Chastain, is based on the nonfiction book by Diane Ackerman, the story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, Warsaw zookeepers who helped Jews hide from and escape the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Yad Vashem, the world’s most comprehensive resource on the Holocaust, paid tribute to the Zabinskis and Dr. Zabinski planted a tree on the Mount of Remembrance there.
Dr. Jan Zabinski was the director of the zoo. He was the author of many popular-knowledge books about biology and the psychology of animals, as well as the producer of a number of very popular radio-shows. Despite the enormous problems he faced as the director of a zoo during wartime, he was not blind to the suffering of the Jews. When the Warsaw ghetto was established Jan and his wife, Antonina, began helping their Jewish friends. As an employee of the Warsaw municipality he was allowed to enter the ghetto. Under the pretext of supervising the trees and small public garden within the ghetto area, he visited his Jewish acquaintances and helped them as best as he could. As the situation in the ghetto deteriorated, he offered them shelter.
“Dr. Zabinski, with exceptional modesty and without any self-interest, occupied himself with the fates of his prewar Jewish suppliers… different acquaintances as well as strangers,” wrote Irena Meizel. She added: “He helped them get over to Aryan side, provided them with indispensable personal documents, looked for accommodations, and when necessary hid them at his villa or on the zoo’s grounds.” Regina Koenigstein described Zabinski’s home as a modern “Noah’s ark”. According to the testimonies, many Jews found temporary shelter in the zoo’s abandoned animal cells, until they were able to relocate to permanent places of refuge elsewhere. In addition, close to a dozen Jews were sheltered in Zabinski’s two-story private home on the zoo’s grounds. In this dangerous undertaking he was helped by his wife, Antonina, a recognized author, and their young son, Ryszard, who supplied food and looked after the needs of the many distraught Jews in their care.
Here is an interview with one of the “guests” who hid at the zoo.