What do you get when you combine two Black women writers (Raynelle Swilling and Teri Schaffer, “The Cleveland Show”), a Black woman director (Nzingha Stewart, NAACP Image Award nominated Lifetime movie, “With This Ring”) and Zendaya, one of TV’s most popular Black women leads? One groundbreaking episode of “K.C. Undercover.”
If you’ve never watched the highly-rated Disney show featuring Zendaya as a teenage coming into her own in a family of undercover spies, now is definitely the time to start because the stars don’t align like this very often, and it might just be a first. So how did this epic episode come to be?
“We pitched the idea of Cleo Brown, the 1st black female spy for the organization, as a throwback to Pam Grier and the 70’s, to producer Rob Lotterstein and he loved it!” says Raynelle Swilling and Terri Schaffer, series writers on “K.C. Undercover” since it began its first season- it’s now going into its third.
K.C. UNDERCOVER – “The Legend of Bad, Bad Cleo Brown” – Grandma Gayle takes K.C. and Ernie back to the 70s to relive how Cleo Brown became the first Black female spy for The Organization. This episode of “K.C. Undercover” airs Sunday, August 14 (8:00 – 8:30 P.M. EDT) on Disney Channel. (Disney Channel/Eric McCandless) KAMIL MCFADDEN
K.C. UNDERCOVER – “The Legend of Bad, Bad Cleo Brown” – Grandma Gayle takes K.C. and Ernie back to the 70s to relive how Cleo Brown became the first Black female spy for The Organization. (Disney Channel/Eric McCandless)
From there, they were given a surprising amount of freedom with the script. “We wanted to keep it real by including some of the things that have happened in our lives with sexism and racism and we figured if it was too much they would reel us in,” says Raynelle. “But that never happened,” adds Teri. “In fact, Rob had us push it even further.” The result is a show that definitely pushes the envelope, especially for a show that caters to a young Disney audience.
It was a refreshing opportunity that wasn’t lost on Nzingha Stewart who Rob brought in to direct the episode. She says, “I loved all the little inside jokes that “WE” know like this very funny moment where the black girls realize everyone else thinks they all look alike. There’s also a nod to Shirley Chisholm.” One of her favorite things about the script was that it showed that Black women can do anything that anyone else can do, without being preachy.
However, shooting the episode also brought with it mixed emotions Nzingha shares: “I was grateful that the universe figured out a way to bring us all together so I could experience working with all of these amazing women, but it was bittersweet because I don’t know when it will happen again.”
Well, if we all tune-in, spread the word and make some noise- we’re talking about standing up and cheering for these ladies- it will happen again. And again. Let’s face it, we need this for our girls. When was the last time we had a show that we could sit down and watch with our daughters and nieces that would actually utter the name Shirley Chisholm? Plus, it’s the episode that keeps on giving because, as Raynelle says, “It shows a young Black girl that she can be a writer, a director and a lead actress.”
Nzingha hopes that the episode will inspire young girls to think about their dreams. “I want them to remember that they come from strong stock, and they too have that seed of black girl magic inside of them just waiting for them to act on it.” Amen. Oh, and there’s the added bonus of the super fly afros and funky fashion that Zendaya rocks so effortlessly throughout the ‘sode, and the narration is done by veteran actress Roz Ryan who plays K.C.’s grandmother. Ya’ll might remember her belting alongside singer Brandy and actress Jennifer Lewis in this summer’s smash video hit, “In These Streets.”
Okay, now we know we’ll be watching, how about you?
“K.C. Undercover: The Legend of Bad, Bad Cleo Brown” airs Sunday, August 14 (8:00 – 8:30 P.M. EDT) on Disney Channel or you can watching it online.
This article first appeared on Madamenoire.com on August 14, 2016.