How BET’s ‘The Quad’ Became the Biggest Show Focused on HBCU Culture Since ‘A Different World’
'The Quad' is ready for season 2.
BET’s drama-filled series; The Quad is set to return for its sophomore season, Tuesday, Jan. 23rd. This season, Anika Noni Rose’s Dr. Eva Fletcher, the polarizing Georgia A&M University President, will try and save the fictional university from going completely bankrupt. The Quad isn’t just a series about student and faculty life at a university; it’s also a show that has put Historically Black Colleges and Universities back in the spotlight in a way that hasn’t been done since the acclaimed and long-running series, A Different World.
A Different World, which ran from 1987-1993, was initially just a spin-off of The Cosby Show. However, after its freshman season, the show found its true focus and sought to give young black people in a particular a robust platform. And by covering a vast array of topics including apartheid, the HIV/AIDS epidemic and domestic violence, A Different World was able to shatter Cosby’s conservative racial politics while confronting significant issues that are often swept under the rug in black communities.
With A Different World as a blueprint, it would make sense that in the 21st century,The Quad, would push the envelope even further. The first season alone dealt with date rape, hazing, inadequate funding for HBCUs and complicated family dynamics, among other things.
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Since The Quad is currently the sole depiction of HBCUs on TV, those who know very little about the history, relevance, and importance of the institutions could take what they see on the series at face value. However, that would mean that they haven't done their homework. Black people and Black cast projects must be able to rise above “good representation" and respectability politics for the sake of authenticity -- perfection doesn’t exist. The fact of the matter is this, many HBCUs have and are currently suffering due to lack of funding and loss of accreditation, which The Quad shows at depth
“I think it's really important when we talk about showcasing a particular piece of culture that we don't dip it in sugar,” Rose, a Florida A&M graduate, told NPR in an interview last year. “I think if we're only showing one side of it, if we're only showing the elevated sections of it, then we aren't telling a truth. We aren't telling the story.”
To that end, Cedric (Peyton Alex Smith), Sydney (Jazz Raycole) and Noni’s (Zoe Renee) stories are not the experiences of every single student who has attended or will attend an HBCU, but their stories do resonate with many people, and they deserve to be told.
Dr. Fletcher's narrative is also significant. Like Viola Davis' Annalise Keating, Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope and Tracee Ellis Ross’ Rainbow Johnson, she is as flawed and frayed as she is powerful. Ivy League educated, wealthy and ambitious, we can still see the cracks in ripples in who she is -- which make her human. Images of Black women like this are vital because as important as Claire Huxtable is, she don’t always exist. Women like Dr. Fletcher are much closer to the women we see in the mirrors everyday, the ones we sit next to in the office or in class, and the ones who've raised us.
When you deny voices and experiences, you erase people -- something Hollywood has been guilty of doing to people of color for centuries. Black folks shouldn’t be so eager to do the same thing to each other. After all, as beloved as A Different World was, the series was ultimately silenced. Though it often tackled somewhat taboo subjects including Whitley (Jasmine Guy) being sexually harassed at work, Kim’s (Charnele Ann Brown) pregnancy scare, and Freddie's sexual assault, the episodes surrounding the Rodney King verdict and the Los Angeles Riots apparently put the network and sponsors over the edge. In the end, canceling the show did not negate the fact that these real-life events happened and continue to happen, nor did it stifle the show's legacy.
Visibility is still critical. Despite what is occurring in the country overall, with Trump and his supporters clinging on to hatred and racism as a means to tout white supremacy, film and television have continued to be progressive in many ways. Currently, Black people are more visible on television across all networks than ever before. If Yara Shahidi’s Zoey Johnson is allowed to grow, expand, experiment, and make mistakes at her predominantly white university on Grown-ish, we should allow the characters in The Quad the same grace. Thirty years after A Different World first aired, The Quad still has important things to show us about our culture, our relationships, ourselves and most importantly, why HBCUs continue to be so necessary.
Season 2 of The Quad will premiere Tuesday, Jan. 23rd at 10/9c on BET