Throughout her career, Janine Sherman Barrois has been infusing her identity as a Black woman into the television shows that have entertained diverse audiences. After graduating from Howard University, she moved West to get into film and television. Barrois worked in the writers’ rooms and as an executive producer on popular shows like The Jamie Foxx Show, ER and Criminal Minds. She now serves as the showrunner for TNT’s Niecy Nash-led hit drama Claws, a fitting role for a woman who is determined to make sure the lives of women and people of color continue to have a space in entertainment.
Her passion for the stories of the marginalized is what attracted her to the script for the pilot of , a “Florida Noir” that features a group of women who do everything together, including running a nail salon, making sure an undercover drug business doesn’t go off the rails and exacting revenge on anyone who threatens their freedom or success.
“I like strong women that are complicated, that are trying to shatter the patriarchy, that are ignoring the patriarchy, that are no longer interested in being held down,” Barrois says of her attraction to the characters. “[Claws is] a hit not only in penetrating the zeitgeist and saying something about [it], but it’s a story about a group of diverse women who all want a piece of the American Dream and I think a lot of people can relate to it.”
Barrois says she’s been lucky to work on diverse sets throughout her career in Hollywood, but she knows that hasn’t been everyone’s experience. She believes Hollywood still has a ways to go, but progress has certainly been made in some regards.
“At the beginning of my career, you could never have African Americans as leads and now it’s not a thing you have to fight for anymore. I think there are so many people that have opened the doors,” says Barrois. “A lot of the networks and the studios are open [to], willing and want to have inclusive talent.”
For this change, Barrois gives credit to today’s Black women showrunners like Shonda Rhimes, Ava DuVernay and Issa Rae, and also to rising talent like Yara Shahidi.
“People are just speaking their truths and I think prior to this, there was a generation that was told, ‘Don’t say anything and if you say anything then they’ll kick you out,’” she says.
This year, under her contract with Warner Bros., Barrois will work as one of the executive producers on a Netflix limited series about a historical “shero.” Madam C.J. Walker will star Octavia Spencer.
“Even when you look at Madam C.J. Walker you can see that although she was fighting to break the glass ceiling, we are still now, in 2019, fighting those fights. We’re just fighting it differently,” Barrois says.
— Jewel Wicker
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