The iconic television series “A Different World” is why many students attended HBCUs in the 1990s and 2000s. The characters, as well as the actors and actresses that played them, became an integral part of Black culture and made television history.
Thirty-five years after its premiere, the show is being remembered for its impact and the critical subjects it tackled.
Kadeem Hardison and Jasmine Guy, who played one of Black America’s most beloved TV couples, Dwayne Wayne and Whitley Gilbert, recently appeared on “The Breakfast Club” to discuss their time working on the show.
One of the episodes they discussed was when the show tackled South Africa’s apartheid system. Here are seven things about the apartheid episode on A Different World.
1. The apartheid episode aired in Feb. of 1990 when the anti-apartheid movement in the United States was in full swing.
A Different World tackled apartheid in South Africa in Season 3, episode 16, titled “A World Alike.” Since apartheid wasn’t abolished until 1994, the racist regime was still in full swing.
Across the United States, people protested for years against South Africa’s racist laws. They also decried the U.S. government having any coalition with the country until apartheid was abolished.
The show reflected the sentiment of people like Randal Robinson, the founder of Transafrica, who led protests at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s. Many people were arrested during Robinson’s protests but he persisted.
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“We’re in this for the long term. There is no ‘when.’ It’s been ten weeks, and we’re not tired,” Robinson told the Christian Science Monitor in 1985 during a protest. “We felt we had to make the most dramatic statement possible to restore our dignity.”
2. On A Different World, Hillman college students were confronted with apartheid when it came to light that one of the university’s major corporate donors had investments in South Africa.
In this episode, it is revealed that Orange Glow, one of Hillman’s biggest donors, has not divested from South Africa, causing an uproar on campus.
3. Whitley and her love interest Julian argue after he suggests that Kim, Whitley’s roommate, should give back her scholarship.
One of the most memorable scenes during the episode occurs when Whitley argues with her love interest, a Georgetown student named Julian Day (played by Dominic Hoffman).
Julian asks Whitley if he can reschedule their date so he can go to an emergency meeting to protest Orange Glow. He suggests the university cut all ties with the company, including students who have scholarships.
This upsets Whitley, whose roommate Kim just received a scholarship from the company.
“I hope the school shows the same sense of responsibility when we ask them to cut their financial ties with orange glow soda,” Julian says.
“When you say cut financial ties, you don’t mean scholarships,” Whitley asks before asking Julian to look the other way until Kim can get her funding.
“I sympathize with your roommate’s situation, but I can’t do that … because we can’t accept money from a company that supports a system based on racial segregation and exploitation.”
After some back and forth between the two, Whitley says, “You see, I’m not on financial aid, either, but I don’t go around dictating the social responsibilities of those who are.”
The two argue and Whitley cancels their date.
4. Two South African students offer varying points of view on whether or not Hillman students should forfeit their scholarships to protest apartheid.
During the emergency meeting about Orange Glow, two South African students offer their views on Hillman doing a total boycott of Orange Glow. The blog “American Expat In London” summarizes it like this:
“The arguments go in circles until two students from South Africa weigh in. Finally, we get the voices of the South African students (largely silent throughout the episode). One of the students, Kobie (Abner Mariri), argues against having students give up their scholarships by arguing that the South African students who are suffering under apartheid may gain inspiration from the example led by Hillman graduates – seeing black people achieve will undo some of the damage done to the psyche of black South Africans,” the blog states.
5. Kim decides not to accept the scholarship to take a stance against apartheid in South Africa.
After two South African students have spoken on the topic, Km decides she will not accept the scholarship from Orange Glow.
“I’m not taking the scholarship. … If I do, I’ll know for the rest of my life that I could have made a stand and I didn’t,” Kim tells Whitely.
6. Jasmine Guy said she was at odds with her character’s views on A Different World when it came to apartheid and other issues.
During their lengthy interview with The Breakfast Club, Guy revealed she didn’t always agree with her character’s views on social and political issues because of how she was raised.
“I know what wasn’t me because of the way I was raised,” Guy responded when asked how much of Whitley Gilbert was true to her personality in real life. “I know politically, I had a lot of issues with what I had to say, but I knew that there was somebody on this show that was goinna say the right thing.”
“When I said to Charnele, Kimberly Reese, on our apartheid show when she was going to give up her scholarship because they were divesting, I said, ‘But I only know you, I don’t even know those people,’” Guy recalled with laughter. “My first scene with Lisa Bonet in the room, I said, ‘Why should I be punished because I can walk?’ I was like, ‘Oh, this b*tch.”
7. Guy and Hardison credited Debbie Allen with adding depth to the show when she came on board after the first season.
“Debbie came and she had a plan … Debbie would come and give you homework. We had to all go home and write a page or two as to what we saw ourselves for our characters, what we should do,” Hardison said.
“What Debbie did was she made our characters deeper and more realistic,” Guy added. “She snatched all the weaves out of hair … because she went to Howard. … She gave us a voice. We couldn’t give notes that first year.”
“We were doing a lot of controversial stuff. It was some stuff that maybe the network wasn’t as thrilled about,” Hardison explained when asked why A Different World was canceled. “There was a lot of battles back and forth with Debbie and trying to make it current and relevant, and it was like, ‘Yeah, let’s just have the romance and the chase.’”
“Every deep show that we did, she [Debbie Allen] fought for,” Guy added. “It was a battle with the network. Them white boys did not care about date rape, apartheid, riot, HIV … they were like just put Whitley and Dwayne and be funny.”
Watch The Breakfast Club’s full interview with Guy and Hardison below.
PHOTOS: Screenshot of video clip from “A Different World: Whitley gets into it with Julian,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxVe9fNj1gk&t=1s
Screenshot of Jasmine Guy from “The Breakfast Club,” https://twitter.com/thehillmanfiles/status/1572711794824839168?s=20&t=A_4K3XKTKVuaJYiagyqKwQ