Best Documentary

We need to talk about this docuseries.

rosebud awards, 2022, documentary
Red Nose Studio; Showtime

Difficult conversations is kind of what I do,” W. Kamau Bell says in his 2022 Showtime documentary series, We Need to Talk About Cosby. The whole docuseries—four hours in total—is one long, difficult conversation that we are having to engage with more and more frequently. How do we—as fans—rethink (and rethink again) our heroes when accusations of misconduct, abuse, and other abhorrent behaviors come to light? More directly, how can Bill Cosby be “America’s dad” if he allegedly was drugging and raping women throughout his career?

The style of the documentary is simple: Bell, a Berkeley-based stand-up comic and author, brings together comedians, artists, journalists, models, lawyers, and more to talk candidly about the legacy of Cosby, the groundbreaking Black comedy superstar who, since 2005, has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 50 women. The series is almost entirely interviews—Bell is behind the camera—interspersed with news and clips of Cosby. There are no tricks or twists or gotcha moments, because Bell is not trying to trap his audience. This isn’t a story to “solve” but rather one to sit with.

Bell connects the dots seamlessly: Cosby’s early jokes about Spanish fly mirrored how he was, women say, drugging them offstage; his education advocacy coupled with his television roles established him as a voice of moral authority, condemning the first survivors who would accuse him of abuse; and so on. Credit is given to Cosby where credit is due, and there’s even a sense of reverence for his cultural achievements. But Bell makes no excuses for the comedian. He conducts on-camera interviews with survivors of sexual assault with consideration and care; their trust in him is apparent.

It’s hard to imagine a filmmaker who would have been more perfect for this project than Bell, a self-proclaimed “child of Bill Cosby.”

“I’m a Black man, I’m a stand-up comic, I was born in the ’70s,” he says. “I was raised by Fat Albert, Picture Pages, The Cosby Show,” programs that, Bell explains, changed the mainstream image of Black men in America. It’s clear, not just from the way he narrates but also from the questions he asks and the ones he leaves unanswered, that Bell also struggles with how to view cultural touchstones like The Cosby Show and I Spy.

For devoted Cosby fans contending with the comedian’s legacy, Bell presents an honest, unflinching view without forcing conclusions. For those unfamiliar with Cosby’s work but eager to understand his impact on American society—as an artist and as a predator—the series is a broad, sweeping evaluation.

A national hero caught in violent behavior and generations of culture shapers trying to imagine what comes next: What is more American—and more relevant—than that?•

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