W. Kamau Bell Fears Response to Bill Cosby Docuseries: 'Not Sure How I Will Come Through This'

The first episode of We Need To Talk About Cosby premieres on Showtime on Sunday, Jan. 30

W. Kamau Bell
W. Kamau Bell. Photo: Tommaso Boddi/FilmMagic

W. Kamau Bell understands that it's not easy to discuss the disturbing sexual assault allegations brought against Bill Cosby, but somebody has to do it — and that somebody is him.

Bell is exploring the downfall of the disgraced celebrity in his four-part docuseries, We Need To Talk About Cosby. The project showcases Cosby's groundbreaking work, which inspired generations of Black actors, and highlights the sinister allegations brought against him through the first hand accounts of his accusers.

As a Black man and a "child of Bill Cosby," Bell, 49, struggled with presenting this piece of work to the world out of fear of not only alienating himself from Hollywood, but his own community.

"I'm very worried about it," Bell tells PEOPLE of the public's response to the series. "I'm still worried about it now. It is a very charged situation — especially with him getting out of prison, it becomes even more charged."

In 2018, Cosby, now 84, was found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault after Andrea Constand said he had drugged her and sexually assaulted her in his Elkins Park, Pa., home in 2004. Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years for the crime.

More than two years into his sentence, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Cosby's conviction, citing a "due process violation" in which the district attorney broke an agreement made with Cosby to not use a confession against him. The state Supreme Court barred any future prosecution on those specific charges and ordered his immediate release.

"This is for people who grew up in Cosby's America," Bell continues. "It is a difficult thing to talk about. I think the documentary is more nuanced than a lot of people were expecting, or a lot more complicated. I sit here, and I'm still not sure how I will come through this on the other side."

Like for so many fans of Cosby, Bell says the allegations against the actor are gut-wrenching. "I wish they didn't exist," he says.

"I believe these survivors, and I wish we could just celebrate Bill Cosby as I think we would, if at this point in his life, as somebody who had just did the good things he did," Bell tells PEOPLE.

We Need To Talk About Cosby centers around the question many fans of Cosby struggle to answer: Can you separate the art from the artist? The project honors the comedian's career milestones, which include more than his ability to create positive portrayals of Black people on TV. Cosby advocated for Black stunt doubles, won a Grammy for his album Bill Cosby Talks to Kids About Drugs, and helped revive NBC with his beloved sitcom The Cosby Show. Still, while doing so much good, America's dad was apparently a predator behind-the-scenes.

"He did a lot of good things," Bell says. "But, the story is more complicated than that, and it's not just about him. There are lots of powerful men in show business and media who have done awful things, but as a Black person, this is the hardest one to deal with."

Explaining why, in some ways, Bell praises Cosby's legacy, he tells PEOPLE: "This whole thing was always about trying to tell a more complete version of the story so you can learn more of a complete lesson."

Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby. Gary Gershoff/Getty

"Some people aren't as aware of all the things he did do... if you don't know that he integrated the stunt industry for Black performers, or if you don't know that he was a part of hiring Black people behind the camera on The Cosby Show, who still owe their start in showbiz to him, we're losing history if we don't talk about those things."

Having grown up inspired by Cosby, listening to his accusers was particularly hard to stomach. However, like with Cosby, Bell wanted to tell a full story and explore who the alleged victims are outside of their experience with the disgraced comedian.

"I was sitting with the survivors, I think when we see them in the news sometimes we just see them at the point where they're crying or upset, or we see them reduced to that moment — but when you sit down and talk with them, you realize they're fully functional, three-dimensional human beings. They had this thing happen that they wish didn't happen, but it doesn't define their whole life," Bell says.

RELATED VIDEO: W. Kamau Bell Feels Bill Cosby Had Intent of 'Blurring That Line' between Cliff Huxtable & Cosby the Man

"I think that's one thing we're trying to do in here is show these women outside of their lives and their opinions outside of their relationship to Bill Cosby or their time with Bill Cosby. The other thing is that when you start to understand how Bill Cosby was with these women, he would be working just as hard at his predation as he was at his career."

"That's a balance we tried to achieve," Bell adds.

Speaking directly to viewers, Bell warns "there's going to be painful parts," but hopes people understand "we have to have this conversation to learn something from it."

"No matter if you really agree about the survivors, no matter what you think about the survivors, there's got to be something to learn from this. Ironically, Bill Cosby was always one of our teachers, who wanted us to learn and help our community. It is super painful, super troubling and super disturbing, but [we have to deal with it] to make the future better."

Bill Cosby. Matt Slocum/AP/Shutterstock

Ahead of We Need To Talk About Cosby's premiere, Cosby's spokesperson is defending his legacy — and calling Bell's project a "PR hack" — in a statement provided to PEOPLE.

"Let's talk about Bill Cosby," the statement reads. "Mr. Cosby has spent more than 50 years standing with the excluded; made it possible for some to be included; standing with the disenfranchised; and standing with those women and men who were denied respectful work … because of race and gender … within the expanses of the entertainment industries."

The statement continues: "Let's talk about Bill Cosby. 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."

The statement adds: "Let's talk about Bill Cosby. In June, 2021, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court released Mr. Cosby; and the court's Chief Justice defined the Pennsylvania Montgomery County District Attorney's behavior as reprehensible."

"Let's talk about Bill Cosby. Mr. Cosby knows the realities of prosecutorial violations; and that those violations are threats to the integrity of our nation's criminal justice systems. That is a subject matter for a professional documentary," the statement reads.

The statement from Cosby's spokesperson concludes with: "Let's talk about Bill Cosby. Mr. Cosby vehemently denies all allegations waged against him. Let's talk about Bill Cosby. He wants our nation to be what it proclaims itself to be: a democracy."

In response, Bell says: "When I thought of all the things Bill Cosby's team might call me, PR hack was not on the list. So, that was original."

The first episode of We Need To Talk About Cosby premieres on Showtime on Sunday, Jan. 30

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