is an intern at The Root and senior journalism major at Howard University.
A Different World was a world that many in the African-American community had been born and bred to be apart of—the microcosm that is the black college. Before Bill Cosby's brain child became a hit, mainstream America hadn't seen the black community's diversity that is literally bursting from the seams at HBCU campuses across the nation.
CAPTIONS BY JADA F. SMITH
There was the brainiac Dwayne Wayne, hard-working Kimberly Reese, the uppity Southern belle Whitley Gilbert and free-spirited Freddie Brooks and later the tough, street-wise Lena and Pan-African enthusiast Shazza Zulu who added to the program’s assorted flavor. A Different World was the first authentic representation of black college life TV had ever seen.
Right on the heels of A Different World, Morehouse alum Spike Lee directed the critical, sometimes not-so-picturesque side of HBCUs. Often plagued with elitism, self-degradation, political apathy and color complexes, black institutions have not been immune to the issues of the African Diaspora. Afraid of the way black schools might be portrayed in the film, Lee and his crew were kicked off the campuses of Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta University. He finished production at Morris Brown College.
The film focused on the tradition of pledging at black schools, and more intently the toll hazing takes on personal values, morals and self-esteem. The fictional Gamma Phi Gamma fraternity was known to have their members bark like dogs and sleep with their loyal groupies, the Gamma Rays.
The widely used phrase “half time is game time” was at the core of the black marching band movie Drumline. Adequately expressing the fervor that often surrounds black college bands, the movie highlighted the seriousness of serenading the stands at football games and the intensity of fighting rival bands on the field.
Pulling on the deep-rooted tradition of soul music, dance and camaraderie in the black community, marching bands at black schools often outshine the athletes. The feel-good, coming-of-age story exposes audiences to the fraternity-like culture in black marching bands.
Stomp the Yard attempted to dissect the desperation often associated with pledging at HBCUs, but it barely scratched the surface. Focusing mainly on the world of hard-core stepping, the movie emphasized the competitive nature of black Greeks’ favorite pastime.
Stepping has become one of the biggest aspects of HBCU culture, drawing audiences numbering in the thousands for step shows and national competitions.
The Great Debaters highlights the little-known story about the Wiley College debate team who defeated the Harvard debate team in the racially charged 1930s. The Great Debaters proved that academics do matter at HBCUs.
After a 1997 article written about Wiley’s national champion debate team, a renewed interest was sparked, leading to a documentary released in 2005 and the feature film starring Denzel Washington in 2007.