‘We Need to Talk About Cosby’ counts on the two Bill Cosbys

This Showtime documentary from W. Kamau Bell is an invitation to discuss a painful betrayal beyond its headlines and tweets.

We're going to talk about Cosby

Showtime

By Brad Gullickson · Published January 25, 2022

This review of We Need to Talk About Cosby is part of our 2022 Sundance Film Festival coverage. Visit our Sundance tab for more reviews and essays.


“Picture pages, picture pages / Time to get your picture pages / Time to get your crayons / And your pencils! / Picture pages, picture pages / Open your picture pages / Time to let Bill Cosby make a picture page with you!” How old was I when I first heard that theme song? Three? Fire? I was barely a human being, and Cosby was as much a teacher to me as my parents.

I missed Image pages during its first run as part of Captain Kangaroobut it was eventually adopted into Nickelodeon’s Pinwheel, and I happily ate it over there. through Image pages, Cosby taught me and millions of other kids basic arithmetic, geometry, and drawing through interactive lessons; basically a preschool workbook comes to life on our TV screens. And while he was playing educator in my living room box, he went and raped women.

As W. Kamau Bell‘s Showtime Documentary Series in Four Parts We’re going to talk about Cosby relentless details, my childhood TV friend began this miserable, diabolical, monstrous behavior almost immediately after he was discovered on The Tonight Show in 1963. The icon shaped his fame, not into a protective armor that concealed his crimes, but into a dagger facing his victims. “America’s Dad” was a creation that represented ultimate trust, but beneath that sweater was a death trap.

Bell opens his series by asking dozens of people (colleagues, lawyers, actors, therapists, consumers, victims), “Who is Bill Cosby now?” Their response ranges from stumbling confusion to cruel disgust to broken nostalgia. Within each plug of the question is wound and grief. We do not want to think about Cosby’s betrayal of us, no matter the many, many, many women he assaulted. Bell, however, never loses sight of their pain.

We’re going to talk about Cosby aims to lay it all out. Throughout its first segment, we witness Cosby’s astronomical progress, behind the scenes advocates of representation and social justice, and the notion of goodness he injected into each project. But Bell also takes the time to highlight the widespread misogyny shown in popular entertainment, from James Bond to casual sexist shocks from news anchors. Bell focuses on some of Cosby’s silly jokes about Spanish fly and barbecue sauce that make people go on a knee buggy that looks dangerously awful in 2022 hindsight. Cosby is a creature of the culture that supported him.

For too long, no one wanted to admit the charges against Cosby. After a video with stand-up comedian Hannibal Buress when he shouted Cosby as a rapist went viral in 2014, the conversation broke out, but its content was little more than Late night jokes and whispers. Bell’s goal for We’re going to talk about Cosby is informed in advance. Let’s take a serious conversation about what this man meant to us and what this man means to us today. We must acknowledge the man we loved to see, the man for what he is now and how American society is also to blame for that man.

The conversation is difficult and it is easy to avoid it. As one person says in doc., “We do not want to lose what [Cosby] once meant to us. “I will hold on to my Image pages Memories. I do not want in four years to be stained by the truth. I want the Cosby from these women’s testimonies to be different from the one I spent years watching on television. I want them to remain separate.

Bell brilliantly never allows these two Cosbys to exist. We’re going to talk about Cosby avoids the rise and fall structure that most documentaries often manage. From the beginning, we are shown the stories of his victims and where they are connected along his career path. From The Tonight Show to I’m spying to Fede Albert to Jell-O pudding pops to Heathcliff Huxtable. There was no meaning to his journey where a claim did not also exist. The icon and the perpetrator are the same.

To reckon with this grotesque juxtaposition evokes an enormous pain from the viewers of the documentary. As a self-proclaimed “child of Bill Cosby,” the pain also thumps violently from W. Kamau Bell. There’s a sense that the documentaries mean the most to him, a comedian who grew up admiring Cosby just like the rest of us, and who built his own life to match Cosby’s path. Bell centers, however We’re going to talk about Cosby not on the title character, but on the women who rose up to fight him years later.

Bell does not leave us with our pain or his pain, for whatever we feel is surface level compared to what Cosby’s victims experienced. In the final chapter, despite a technicality that released Cosby from prison while the production was in progress of the series, Bell instead chooses to lift the work with Lili Bernard, Donna Barrett, Barbara Bowman, and other. Their crusade for justice continues in the courts, fighting to overturn statutes of limitations on sexual assault cases in California, Nevada and elsewhere.

With four segments running just under four hours in total, We’re going to talk about Cosby requires a lot of your time. If you think you know what went down, you probably do not. Our opinions are often intertwined using soundbites, headlines and tweets. W. Kamau Bell allows us to engage in a much larger conversation. We would be foolish not to take him up on it. We owe it Image pages or Cosby Show fan inside us.

Related topics: Documentary, Sundance

Brad Gullickson is a weekly columnist for film school rejections and senior curator of One Perfect Shot. When he’s not tumbling about movies here, he walks around comics as a co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him on Twitter: @MouthDork. (han / ham)

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: