Thirty years later, ‘A Different World’ remains as relevant as ever

Posted on Oct 3 2017 - 1:19pm by Kiara Manning

Last month marked the 30th anniversary of the beloved Cosby Show spinoff “A Different World.”

“A Different World” premiered on NBC on Sept. 24, 1987, and was set at the fictional historically black Hillman College. The show navigated through many subjects that most shows wouldn’t even talk about, including HIV, racism and sexual and physical abuse. The show also embraced topics like self-acceptance and black love.

a different world

Photo courtesy: Hulu

The show was created by Bill Cosby as a spinoff to “The Cosby Show” but immediately achieved its own success, running for six seasons with its final episode airing in 1993. The first season centers around Denise Huxtable, played by Lisa Bonet, then shifts focus to characters Whitley Gilbert and Dwayne Wayne, played by Jasmine Guy and Kadeem Hardison, respectively. Debbie Allen was brought on during the second season as executive producer as part of the show’s revamp after the departure of Bonet.

Allen was praised for bringing popular aspects to the show to light, such as dance and fashion, which was mostly associated with Whitley Gilbert’s sense of style. She also raised awareness about certain topics in the black community. Another part of the show’s popularity was the relationship between Whitley and Dwayne. The show portrayed the ups and downs of their relationship and was one of the first realistic African-American relationships seen on a television show.

The rest of the main cast included Charnele Brown (Kim Reese), Cree Summers (Freddie Brooks), Darryl M. Bell (Ron Johnson) and Dawnn Lewis (Jaleesa Vinson Taylor). A later addition to the cast was Jada Pinkett-Smith who portrayed Lena James during the fifth and sixth season. The show also featured various iconic guest stars, including Patti LaBelle, Diahann Carroll and the late rapper Tupac Shakur.

“A Different World” was and still is popular among millennials who identify with the show’s portrayal of African-American students at a historically black college learning to navigate their way through various growing pains.

“It exposed the public to real world issues the black community faced that were pretty much swept under the rug,” senior risk management and insurance major De’mero Miller said. “It showcased the importance of young black men and women attending college, figuring out their lives.”

Miller also stated that “A Different World” was vital during its time because there aren’t many shows like it today.

“Shows about gossip, reality stars, drama and other unimportant things are aired, while our country is on a downward slope,” Miller said. “We no longer have the sort of political figure that ‘A Different World’ offered.”

In an interview with NBC News, the cast reunited to talk about the impact of the show and how important it still is 30 years later.

“We’d never seen black kids in college on television,” Hardison said.

Hardison, who now stars in Disney Channel’s show “K.C. Undercover” alongside Zendaya, went on to discuss the effect the show had on his generation at that time.

“Here comes this show, and if it caught you at 14 years old, it took you through high school and propelled you into college. It created a lot of successful, education-first minded people who can’t let go, who knew what it was like for them and what it did for them, and they want it back. They want it back for their kids and this new generation,” he said.

Lewis stated that the reason for the show’s appeal then and 30 years later was that it was also an intergenerational portrayal of blackness that is inclusive of a variety of black identities.

“A Different World” is seen as one of the most iconic African-American shows in TV history. It is often compared to life at the historically black college Howard University. Today’s generation, specifically teenagers born in the ’90s and 2000s, watch the show, and many beg for a reboot of the classic.

Many of the show’s actors still appear in shows today. Jasmine Guy has even made an appearance here at the university.

Ole Miss senior Daisjha Phillips admires Bill Cosby’s courage to talk about the issues that weren’t talked about enough.

“It was important because it took a lot of courage for Cosby to speak out about the things that were going on in that period and not just then but now, too,” Phillips said. “History repeats itself, and for him to feel like he needed to speak out and actually do it it means a lot to me.”