‘We Need to Talk About Cosby’ Director W. Kamau Bell Thinks There’s ‘No Point’ to Meeting with Bill Cosby

Exclusive: Director W. Kamau Bell said the "next step" is really about system reform, not "a rapist who had a TV show once." Watch the IndieWire Studio presented by Adobe interview.
Bill Cosby, "We Need to Talk About Bill Cosby"
"We Need to Talk About Bill Cosby"

We need to talk about Bill Cosby, but director W. Kamau Bell has no interest in hearing more from “The Cosby Show” actor himself.

“No, I don’t know if there’s any point to that,” Bell exclusively told IndieWire’s Eric Kohn during the IndieWire Studio at Sundance, presented by Adobe, about potentially sitting down with Cosby. “I hope that the next step is not really about Bill Cosby but about all of us who want to have this nuanced, productive conversation understand that the film wants to highlight the fact that we currently live in a world where specifically a woman is sexually assaulted…[and] that they don’t know where to go for support and justice.”

A spokesperson for Cosby slammed Bell’s 2022 Sundance documentary, “We Need to Talk About Cosby“, saying that the discussion is misdirected.

“Let’s talk about Bill Cosby,” the official statement reads, as reported by People. “Mr. Cosby continues to be the target of numerous media that have, for too many years, distorted and omitted truths … intentionally. Despite media’s repetitive reports of allegations against Mr. Cosby, none have ever been proven in any court of law.”

After being found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault in 2018, Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison. More than two years into his sentence, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Cosby’s conviction due to a “due process violation” in which the district attorney “broke an agreement made with Cosby to not use a confession against him,” via People.

Director Bell, however, likened “We Need to Talk” to ESPN’s 30 for 30 series “OJ: Made in America,” involving a disgraced Black male icon.

“I think this is one of the only ways you’re going to hear the good parts of [Cosby’s] legacy told,” Bell said of his film. “But I think also he will not enjoy other big stretches of it because it’s dealing with people who are telling their story of what their time with him was, and they’re talking about sexual assault and rape and him being the person who did it. I can’t imagine O.J. Simpson watching ‘Made in America.’ … Maybe some of the loudest voices will be ones who will never watch it.”

Both documentaries “Made in America” and “We Need to Talk About Cosby” had to “earn the trust” of the audience by remembering their respective titans’ glory days. “It’s bigger than a funny scene from a sitcom because it is highlighting Black excellence and Black family,” Bell recalled of re-watching “The Cosby Show” scenes. “It’s one of those moments where you go, ‘You just can’t take all of that away.’ It’s too embedded in your cultural DNA.”

Bell continued, “It felt like even with [Cosby] in prison, Black people, there is a sense like, I don’t want to divide my audience because some Black people are on one side of it and some Black people are on the other side of it. I’m going to tell it through the way that I see it. If a white filmmaker did it, it would have been different.”

Bill Cosby released from prison after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his 2018 conviction for sexual assault on procedural grounds. - File Photo by: zz/Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx 2018 4/12/18 Bill Cosby is seen on April 12, 2018 outside the courthouse during his trial for sexual assault. (Norristown, Pennsylvania)
Bill Cosbyzz/Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx

Cosby, whom Bell called “a rapist who had a TV show once,” earned many ‘firsts,’ like becoming the first Black performer to win three consecutive Emmys for a leading role. “He had the biggest sitcom of its day and one of the biggest sitcoms of all time,” Bell mused. “In the ’80s, Black people were getting our ass kicked every night on the news and then at 8 o’clock, this Black family would come on and just enjoy their lives.”

Today, Bell is focused on society believing survivors, regardless of the influence of their alleged attackers.

“They think you’re trying to take down a powerful man because you’re jealous…,” Bell recalled. “To me it’s not about whether you believe Bill Cosby did this or not, shouldn’t we create a society that is more responsive and more supportive and safer for survivors of sexual assault and rape? It should be more important to have somebody not get assaulted or raped than have a hit TV show.”

Four-part documentary “We Need to Talk About Cosby” debuts January 30 on Showtime.

Presenting sponsor Adobe — with a mission to enable creativity for all — is committed to supporting, elevating and amplifying underrepresented creators, so the world can see, learn and benefit from diverse perspectives. Learn more at Adobe.com Diverse Voices. The upcoming 2022 festival marks the fifth consecutive year IndieWire and Adobe have joined forces for the IndieWire Studio at Sundance.

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