Bill Cosby was more than just one of the most influential entertainers of all-time, he literally changed the landscape and paved the way for other African-Americans that followed him. Cosby also "allegedly" drugged, raped and/or sexually assaulted at least 60 women during all phases of his career, using his power and the wholesome persona he had created for himself to commit these horrible atrocities.
Both of the above sentences are true. And that is the paradoxical dilemma that is explored in the new four-part Showtime docu-series, "We Need To Talk About Cosby." How does one square these two "versions" of Cosby? Is it OK to champion Bill's professional career while simultaneously being appalled and shunning his personal life? These are questions facing not just the entire African-American community who grew up idolizing Cosby and the doors he had kicked down for his people, but for ALL people, as Bill Cosby had been one of the most beloved comedians and actors in the history of America.
Yes, it's time we talk about Bill Cosby.
The series is brought to us by stand-up comedian, writer, filmmaker, producer and provocateur, W. Kamau Bell (United Shades of America) and it is done with pitch-perfection. Bell does a terrific job of showing just how influential Bill Cosby was to several generations of fans both black-and-white, from his early stand-up comic days to his dramatic actin on the TV series, "I Spy," to becoming a household name and educational presence with his many kids television (like "Fat Albert") and commercial ad appearances (he was the spokesperson for Coca-Cola and Jello, among many others), to his ground-breaking sitcom, "The Cosby Show" which ran from 1984 to 1992. His 1983 stand-up concert film, "Bill Cosby Himself," is thought of as one of the absolute best and most influential comedy films of all-time.
At times - in fact throughout much of the series - you can feel Bell's love for Cosby and his internal conflict to deal with what have now become complex emotions. LIke, what's not to love about Bill's career? But how does one square that with what Bill did to countless women?
We hear from many of these women, all who have similar experiences with Cosby. The through-line seems to be that Cosby would use some sort of drug, and the women would often wake up naked in his bed. These were white women, black women, and women of all shades. Accusations arise from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s and beyond. Only 60 (I say "only") have come forward, but Bell surmises that there are probably many, many more.
In 2018, Cosby was convicted of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, but making things (and this film) even more interesting, is that in 2021, Cosby was released from prison and had his conviction overturned due to a technicality in the prosecution's case. So legally, Cosby has a clean record when it comes to sexual assault. Bill Cosby has always vehemently denied all allegations against him.
"We Need To Talk About Cosby" excels in how it gives many of Cosby's victims not only a platform for their story, but the time to tell in on their terms. It ultimately addresses larger systemic issues as well, like how statutes of limitation prevented many of the early survivors from bringing lawsuits now. All skeptical questions are answered, such as the damning and loaded "why wait so long to accuse him?" question. This docu-series is not simply about Bill Cosby and the incredible harm he has caused, but it acts as a powerful lesson in rape culture and victim-shaming for those that might not comprehend how power dynamics often lead to these sort of heinous crimes.
After telling many of the survivor's stories, and giving a full picture of the many good things Cosby did in his career, Bell does answer his initial questions and tackles many of them head-on, which makes "We Need To Talk About Cosby" a conversation that should be required by all.
"We Need To Talk About Cosby" debuts on Showtime on Sunday, January 30th, 2022.
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