In the 1990’s, there were a ton of sitcoms and movies starring African Americans. They were given different roles that depicted the diverse backgrounds of all black people. As a little black girl growing up in this time, this was exciting. I was able to see people that looked like me living their fictional life on a television show and not just as a sad looking case on the Evening News or Cops.
Black people weren’t only given the roles of the house maid or the drug dealer. We were doctors, lawyers, beauticians, teachers, and stock brokers. We were shown to be business women that still had a life outside of work. We were students trying to have a voice in America and trying to make a difference in the world.
A Different World, was a spin-off of the classic Cosby Show. It featured the fictional college of Hillman. Seeing all of those young, hip, black students, thrilled me and I too wanted to attend. I didn’t know it was made up; I just wanted to experience that type of college life one day. A Different World was a show that was ahead of its time. It showcased the many ups and downs that come with being a college student. What made it even more special was that the characters were brown like me. Black like me, whatever; they were African American like me. These students were trying to navigate through the rocky and sometimes unstable waters of friendship and on time graduation. They were finding love and learning about who they were and wanted to be. Has there ever been a successful television show that displayed young adults in college? Not interns, but as actual students.
After Season 1, the show changed it’s focus from Lisa Bonet’s character, Denise Huxtable, to the spoiled, southern, and sheltered Whitley Gilbert (Jasmine Guy) and the determined, and sometimes uncertain, flip-up glasses wearing Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison). Their journey of love brought more humor to an already hilarious show. Sprinkled throughout the story lines of Whitley and Dwayne, were issues affecting black people in the world at the time like HIV/AIDS, the injustice of Apartheid in South Africa, Interracial Dating, racial profiling, and the moral decision to continue to be financially supported by companies or organizations that don’t support YOU. These were issues discussed in the early 90’s, but what’s changed?
With the direction of Debbie Allen, this show helped to make its black viewers even more proud to be black. For the non-black viewers it taught many lessons on the rights and privileges that are not always easily given, based on the brownness of ones’ skin but with a youthful and mature perspective. A Different World helped to celebrate the African American’s place in this country by showing that our history didn’t start with slavery and “the struggle”. That we will continue to make our mark in this country and around the world. Because of this show, many people were introduced to the dancing style of Alvin Ailey, to the beautifully talented acting chops of Diahann Carroll*, and the power of Step and camaraderie within the African American Fraternities/Sororities.
A Different World was a show before its time. A realistic story on the plights of the educated African American. Before the days of social media and internet stardom, young people wanted to achieve the American Dream by going to college and allowing education to “take them places”. I desired to attend college because of A Different World. Hey TV Writers, please bring back the trend of television shows that inspired young people to dream of being successful with their brain and hard-work. Not just from going viral.
*Diahann Carroll had her own television sitcom, Julia, where she played a single parent and a nurse. Many believed she was a white woman with brown make-up on because she was thought to be too beautiful to really be a black woman. She was also starred in the show Dynasty.
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All images of Diahann Carroll found on Pinterest, Diahann-Carroll.com, IMDB
Images of A Different World found on Pinterest and its-a-different-world.com