Hustle Mindset

Remembering How Black Actors Represented HBCUs In Film And TV In The ’90s


There was a time in the late 1980s and 1990s that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were the focus of Black entertainment. You could see HBCUs represented on TV, in film, and songs. Celebrities went around donning HBCU memorabilia, and it all made it seem cool to attend an HBCU.

Popular TV series “A Different World,” which began airing in 1987 and ended in 1993, took place at a fictional HBCU called Hillman College. It was actually filmed at Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College. Howard University alumna and producer/director Debbie Allen ensured that Black college life was portrayed as accurately as possible.

Will Smith (R) wears a Morehouse shirt in “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (Warner Bros)

Eddie Murphy’s 1992 hit film “Boomerang” was an HBCU-inspired romantic comedy. Will Smith should often be seen wearing HBCU tee shirts on his hit TV series, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” which ran from 1990 to 1996. Hip-Hop duo Kid ‘n Play, who could often be seen wearing HBCU gear, started in the teenage flick “House Party” in 1990, and in the 1992 sequel, “House Party 2” they went off to college.

The use of HBCUs in film and TV didn’t stop end and the ”90s decade closed. Fast forward to Georgia A&M University being used as the backdrop of the 2017 TV drama “The Quad.” But it doesn’t seem like the 1990s HBCUs had become part of pop culture. 

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Because HBCUs provide a safe space for young Black youth, they have become the epicenter of Black youth activism, art, and expression

“It should come as no surprise then that these colleges and universities have also been crucial to pop culture, spanning from the early ’90s and beyond,” Complex reported.

Howard University and Morehouse “have been referenced in sitcoms, songs, and movies as the ‘it’ places to be,” Complex reported.

There were the fictional HBCUs in films such as Mission College in the Spike Lee HBCU homage flick “School Daze,” Atlanta A&T in the film “Drumline” and Truth University in the movie “Stomp The Yard.”

Filmmaker Lee Lee enrolled in Morehouse College, where he made his first student film, “Last Hustle in Brooklyn.” He took film courses at another HBCU Clark Atlanta University and graduated with a B.A. in mass communication from Morehouse. He did graduate work at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in film and television. He filmed 1988’s “School Daze” at Morris Brown College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University. The film’ not only encouraged African-American college students to think ‘s political activism slant reportedly caused all three colleges to request that Lee stop filming on their campuses, concerned about how each school was being portrayed, Andscape reported.

Meanwhile, 2002’s “Drumline,” which filmed at Morris Brown College, Grambling State University, Clark Atlanta University, and Bethune-Cookman University, took a look at Black college marching band culture.

Black Entertainment Television’s reality TV series “College Hill,” which aired from 2004 to 2009, focused on a group of diverse co-eds as they lived under the same roof. Various HBCUs were represented, Southern University, Langston University, Virginia State University, and University of the Virgin Islands.

In 2005 the thriller movie “Train Ride” was filmed at Cheyney University, the oldest HBCU in the U.S. The film’s cast included MC Lyte, Wood Harris, and Esther Rolle. It centered around a date rape on a college campus.

The Denzel Washington movie “The Great Debaters,” from 2007, was shot at Wiley College. It also featured other notable actors such as Forest Whitaker, Kimberly Elise, Nate Parker, Gina Ravera, Jermaine Williams, and Jurnee Smollett. Based on the true story of the Wiley College debate team in the 1930s, the film focused on debate coach Melvin B. Tolson, a Lincoln University alumnus.

The movie “Stomp The Yard” in 2007 was filmed at Morris Brown College, Morehouse College, and Clark Atlanta University. Meagan Good, Columbus Short and singers Ne-Yo and Chris Brown stared in the film about Black Greek-letter organizations and the art of stepping.

Eddie Murphy, center, wears a Howard University shirt with Martin Lawrence (R) and David Alan Grier (L) in the movie “Boomerang” (Paramount)

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