Ebony Magazine Shatters Nostalgic Image of 'The Cosby Show'

October 20th 2015

Kyle Jaeger

For years, the Huxtable family has represented something bigger than itself: the Black American family. But America has struggled to reconcile the fictional "Cosby Show" characters with allegations that Bill Cosby sexually assaulted dozens of women. This conflict was boldly taken up by Ebony magazine in their November issue.

Though his lawyers vociferously deny reports by more than 40 women who say that Cosby sexually assaulted them—including allegatoins that women were drugged and raped by Cosby—the court of public opinion seems to have determined for itself that the 78-year-old comedian and actor should be held accountable. What that means for the Black community, which has identified with the "Cosby Show," is driving the controversy over Ebony's cover.

On the cover, a shattered portrait of the Huxtable family reflects the audience's shattered understanding of the television show's legacy and what the Cosby allegations mean for those who grew up watching the sitcom. Should Cosby's alleged sexual misconduct in real life affect how we interpret and value the show he starred in, or are those two factors mutually exclusive?

"Some Ebony readers are furious that the magazine is conflating Cosby's personal life with his beloved on-air persona," CNN reported. "Many argue that the image convicts a man who's never been prosecuted for any of the alleged sexual assaults. Others criticize Ebony for being a black media outlet participating in tearing down a powerful black man."

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But for Ebony editor in chief Kierna Mayo, the response was to be expected. She and her staff designed to cover deliberately, aiming to spark conversation about the "Family Issue(s)" article and the dramatic shift in public opinion about the "Cosby Show" icon.

"When you understand the soul of black America and you understand how important iconography is and you understand how important the image of black family perfection ... is, you realize that there's no way to do something like this without it being hugely conversational, if not confrontational, and in many cases painful for people," Mayo told CNN. "We are simply asking African-Americans to have a very passionate, a very honest and a very forthright conversation about what this means."

On Twitter, the response to Ebony's November cover has been mixed, but most appear to support to the idea that a conversation needed to happen regarding the relationship between Bill Cosby and the Black community that he influenced as an entertainer. A hashtag, #CosbyVsCliff, has started trending, raising questions about the distinction between Cosby and the fictional character he played.