Like the vast majority of comics over 40, W. Kamau Bell grew up idolizing Bill Cosby. Unlike most of his peers, he still wants to talk about him.
Bell has a reputation for tackling controversial subjects, most notably as host of CNN's "United Shades of America." But his latest project, "We Need to Talk About Cosby," ventures into particularly choppy waters.
The four-part series, premiering at 9 p.m. Sunday on Showtime, chronicles how his one-time role model went from being "America's Dad" to an alleged predator who spent three years in prison after more than 60 women accused him of crimes that ranged from sexual assault to rape. His conviction was vacated last June. Bell, who serves as narrator and director, spoke about his powerful docuseries:
Q: It's been hard to find people who want to talk about this subject. Why?
A: During the Me Too movement, powerful men in media were being exposed for things they've done. But a lot of those men were just famous. They weren't heroes. They weren't people that had been in your life since you were a child. You may like their acting but you don't have a big commitment to them. Like in that movie ["All the Money in the World"] where they just replaced Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer. With Cosby, there's no replacing what he did for years that was positive.
Q: What is your first memory of Cosby?
A: When I was putting this together, I realized it has to be "Fat Albert." I was born in the early '70s when that show was on. I didn't really know him as a comedian. I didn't even know he was the driving force behind the show. I just knew he seemed to care about me. He wanted me to be smart, good to my community. And it was a Black show, so that made it very meaningful.
Q: You interview some impressive people for the series, but they're not exactly A-listers. How hard was it to get people to participate?
A: If you stack the list of nos next to the stack of yeses, the nos are a far bigger stack. When we started this, Cosby was still in prison. In my mind, he was going to serve the rest of his life there. So I thought maybe now we can have this conversation. I found out very quickly I was being naive. He is an extremely divisive figure. Then we got hit by COVID. So I'm sure a lot of people thought, "Why would I risk my health to talk about Cosby and then get yelled at on social media?"
Q: Did you have an interest in talking to Cosby for the documentary?
A: I think it would have been complicated. We had reached out to all these survivors and were creating a safe space for them. He's a dominating figure. The minute his presence is in it, it shifts how you see the film.
Q: Do you have an interest in ever talking to him?
A: No. I don't think we'd have a lot to talk about. I l believe what I believe. If Bill Cosby wanted me to be smart and moral and good to my community, then I should be promoting a more equal society. Bill Cosby wouldn't want me to do this film. But Cliff Huxtable would.