It’s been over 30 years since the first episode of A Different World aired on NBC, but many of the show’s themes and messages are still relevant in today’s society. Jasmine Guy and Kadeem Hardison reunited over a video call to chat with ET about their adventure with their former castmates on E!’s new series, Reunion Road Trip, how they tackled the difficult issues and why those conversations are still significant.
A Different World began airing in 1987, focusing on students at Hillman College, a fictional historically Black college in Virginia. A spinoff of The Cosby Show, it was one of the very few shows that centered an HBCU and initially focused on Lisa Bonet’s Denise Huxtable. When she left after season 1, the show shifted focus to Guy and Hardison and made changes behind the scenes to more accurately depict the experience of an HBCU. As an alum of Howard University, Debbie Allen stepped onto the scene as the chief creative force to revamp the series. Under her guidance, the series began addressing issues that its predecessors avoided, such as race and class relations, teen sex, HIV/AIDS, and unwanted pregnancies. The change gave the show more gravitas and the handling of its discourses is still admired by fans today.
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“Back in the day when it was still fresh, the best compliment I could get was, at the gas station, ‘My grandbaby wants to be an engineer because of you,’ and that’ll always kind of be the pinnacle,” Hardison shared, reflecting on the response from fans. “And then I’d meet somebody who I admired, like [rapper and producer] 9th Wonder, and he would tell me how I taught him about sneakers, I taught him how to dress. I was his inspiration to go to an HBCU and follow his dream and that it was OK to not be a certain type of dude.”
“Black has many shades and I was able, through the writing, to open up paths for shades that weren’t so popular or weren’t getting as much care,” he went on. “I was having breakfast with 9th in Portland. We went to a sneaker bar and one of the waiters, an older brother walking by the table, saw me and… had a real emotional moment. Just seeing me at the pancake house, which was like, you’re never prepared for the impact you’ve had. Especially since we didn’t have any likes or clicks or favorites or internet with millions of people who could reach out and say, ‘we love what you’re doing,’ like now. But sitting down, having some pancakes and this brother seeing me and stopped his job… he came over and got down on the knee and had to let me know what seeing me in the flesh meant to him at that time because of what he had gone through in his life and seen, and was inspired. Yeah, it doesn’t get any better.”
“And I think for some people that grew up with us, we were their friends,” Guy added. “I love that we were able to bring [those] conversations to families where date rape was going to be an awkward conversation with a 10-year-old girl because she hasn’t even experienced it yet… I think we brought, into the family room, things that are difficult to talk about with young children. And we kept it PG, much to our dismay.”
One of the show’s most memorable discussions takes place in the first two episodes of season 6, during the honeymoon of Guy and Hardison’s Whitley Gilbert and Dwayne Wayne. The newlyweds travel to Los Angeles on their honeymoon, coinciding with the real-life 1992 riots after a jury acquitted four Los Angeles Police Department officers charged with using excessive force in the arrest and beating of Rodney King. The episodes highlighted the aftermath of the riots, focusing on the emotional upheaval among the Black community.
“I think the relevance of the show is that we were relevant. And the fact that the statements that we made back then are still needing to be heard,” Guy said, reflecting on the two-parter storyline. “It’s also heartbreaking. I don’t think that we changed the world with the riots episode, but we did acknowledge how it affected all of us. See, when things were happening in the outside world, it was happening to us, personally. I remember when Darryl [M. Bell, who played Ron Johnson] got locked up for some kind of parking ticket, I remember when another actor on our show got stopped, head to the pavement, because of some tinted glass.”
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“We live in L.A., and we experienced…the country watching a video of a man getting his a** beat. And they said, ‘That’s OK. That’s OK to hogtie him.'” she went on. “So it felt purposeless if we didn’t do shows that are relevant to the lives we ourselves were living and coming from. So, I’m not surprised that the riot show is still relevant. I’m just disappointed because 30 years later, we’re still seeing videos of abuse and there’s no accountability. And it seems to say, ‘It’s OK if you shoot our brethren in the back.'”
Guy noted that if the show were still airing today, they would create episodes that focused on how the recent examples of police brutality affect the families of those involved. “And I know… we would be dealing with it as it was happening, but those shows were the hardest ones to produce,” she said. “People asked why we wanted that heavy stuff on our little comedy show, but we could always be funny. That’s what I kept saying. The deeper you go, we will find a place to make it funny.”
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