September 19, 2022
Photo by: NBCU Photo Bank
Beyond just its name, A Different World sought to set itself apart from other sitcoms of its time.
The original purpose of The Cosby Show spin-off, which debuted in September 1987 and continued until 1993, was to provide Denise (played by Lisa Bonet) a vehicle to play the character, who was a lost student attending Hillman College, the made-up alma mater of her parents.
When the relationship between nerdy Dwayne Wayne, (played by Kadeem Hardison) and southern belle Whitley Gilbert, (played by Jasmine Guy) became its anchor during its second season, the timeless sitcom started to live up to its ambitious goal of providing a groundbreaking look at life at historically black colleges and universities, also known as HBCUs.
Loyal fans faithfully tuned in to see this iconic couple and the other Hillman college students deal with the uncertainties of being a young adult before eventually growing up and becoming wiser versions of themselves.
35 years later, A Different World is still one of the most-loved sitcoms among the Black community.
From being ahead of its time, this sitcom discussed hard-hitting topics such as HIV/AIDS, police brutality, date rape, domestic violence, and racism in a prolific way to help build a larger conversation around said topics.
To celebrate A Different World’s 35th anniversary here are the very reasons why we will forever love the show!
A Different World Proved and Showcased That Not All Black People Are the Same
Anyone who has watched the show will agree that the variety of the cast undoubtedly contributes to why A Different World has maintained a devoted fan base for more than three decades.
We, as fans met a lot of driven, complex individuals with unique personalities.
And as a result, an array of Black viewers—which was extremely rare during the run of the show—could authentically see themselves reflected in the sitcom’s characters.
“There was something for somebody, whatever shade of Black you were or whatever shade of Black you were not,” Charnele Brown, who played Kim Reese stated in an interview with NBC.
“Whatever age group you were in, whether you were retired and trying to make your contribution to these young people like Mr. Gaines was. Whether you were a former military person like Colonel Taylor was. Whether you were somebody who thought it was over for you, but you were gonna take a chance on yourself and reboot yourself and try again like Jaleesa was. Or you were privileged and really had no concept of what the average person had to deal with like Whitley was…There was something for everybody.”
It Effectively Discussed Several Social Issues
The way that A Different World covered social and political topics proved that the show was years ahead of its time.
It turned out to be one of the first television programs to publicly explore contentious subjects including HIV/AIDS, date rape, apartheid, and the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1990s.
The showrunner of A Different World, the legendary Debbie Allen tapped into her time at Howard University to help shape these groundbreaking episodes.
“My coming into this show was certainly somewhere between my sister [Phylicia Rashad] who was, you know Denise’s [Lisa Bonet] mother and had visited on the campus of Hillman on the show and seeing what was happening behind the scenes,” Allen shared.
After receiving a call from Bill Cosby to “clean up house,” Allen was determined to bring the necessary spice and realness to the sitcom.
“Having come from Howard University. I knew what to do with the show. I had lived it and breathed it. So I knew the stories that they needed to be telling,” Allen said.
One of the more thought-provoking episodes is “Cat’s in the Cradle,” which tackles racism and racial prejudice.
This specific episode, it showcased the aftermath of Ron’s (played by Darryl M. Bell) decision to accept a bet from three white A&M students during a contentious Hillman-Virginia A&M game.
When one of the three students spray-painted racial slurs on his car in retribution, Ron and Dwayne fight with the racist white A&M students. As the night goes on, they are arrested.
The episode later shows the men begin to tell quite different stories while a white officer mediates and questions the assumptions of both groups.
A Different World Showed Authentic Black Pride
A Different World rose to prominence as the most watched program in black households during its heyday, because fans were eager to see these social issues covered on television.
Not only did the show contribute to the rapid spike of Black students enrolling in HBCUs.
“From the debut of The Cosby Show in 1984 until the end of A Different World in 1993, American higher education grew by 16.8 percent,” Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, former president of Dillard University, explained during an interview with the New York Times.
He continued, “During the same time period, historically black colleges and universities grew by 24.3 percent — 44 percent better than all of higher education.”
The iconic show used fashion and art in addition to its bold narrative to broaden the appeal of a facet of black culture that had previously been mostly ignored by the mainstream.
The show’s theme song referred to the saying that we shouldn’t hold ourselves to “good enough” as a benchmark.
Black universities, many of which were established after the American Civil War because blacks lacked access to other higher education options, lend weight to the argument.
Every Thursday at primetime on NBC, A Different World captured the very spirit of Afrocentrism and popular culture coming together to celebrate black identity!
Not to mention, the characters proudly represented and fully supported HBCUs with innovative fashion every week. And in response, we saw many stars wearing and supporting HBCUs during this timeframe.
If you have watched the series, then you’d know the show was filled with some of the best guest appearances throughout its run on air.
From Lena Horne and Heavy D to Whoopi Goldberg, Tupac Shakur and Joe Morton, A Different World knew exactly how to incorporate these star appearances throughout each season. To this day, we still get excited to see some of our favorite OG celebs appear in the Hillman universe!
Each guest star appearance brought something fresh and exciting each and every time.
For example, fans still talk about Whoopi Goldberg’s appearance as Dr. Jordan listening to and supporting Josie Webb tell her shocking life story of being a young woman living with HIV/AIDs. And fans still rave whenever they see Tupac as Piccolo causing havoc in Lena’s relationships with other Hillman students.
No matter how old or young you are, seeing your favorite star appear in an A Different World episode will make your heart sing each and every time!
Dwayne and Whitley
Do we need to say more?!
Watching Dwayne and Whitley’s relationship grow into #relationship goals, will forever be a top reason to watch A Different World!
Ok, sure Dwayne made fun of Whitley for being a rich materialistic girl, and Whitley did not like him at first, but these two characters helped each other grow into mature adults much like in the real world.
As their relationship became more serious, we see Dwayne go from being obsessed with Denise to a man that was able to commit, and we also witnessed Whitley’s transformation use being the ultimate material girl to realizing that materialistic riches were not end-all-be-all.
How can you not cheer for these two?
From becoming friends to as soon lovers, Dwayne and Whitley’s love was undoubtedly beautiful.
These two are the epitome of Black love. From how they look at each other, to crashing Whitley and Bryon’s wedding and fighting for Whitley’s love, we can never get enough of Pookie and Bunny!
What are some reasons that make you an A Different World fan? Let us know down below!