Relax, Relate, Release Because Debbie Allen Is Directing A Different World for 'Zoom Where It Happens' [Updated]

Debbie Allen, left, on November 1, 2018; Yara Shahidi on November 11, 2019; Tessa Thompson on January 27, 2020; Storm Reid on February 24, 2020.
Debbie Allen, left, on November 1, 2018; Yara Shahidi on November 11, 2019; Tessa Thompson on January 27, 2020; Storm Reid on February 24, 2020.
Photo: Leon Bennett/Getty Images (Getty Images), Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images (Getty Images), Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images (Getty Images), Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images (Getty Images)

The theme song for the beloved HBCU-based series A Different World notes that “it’s a different world than where you come from!” That lyric couldn’t be truer than in 2020, where our “different world” consists of virtual events in lieu of in-person events.


On Sunday, it was announced that the next installment of the popular “Zoom Where It Happens” series will feature a virtual table reading of A Different World, directed by Debbie Allen! The event will star Tessa Thompson, Yara Shahidi, Storm Reid, Kelly McCreary (Grey’s Anatomy), Oswin Benjamin (The Forty-Year-Old Version), and Lil’ Yachty. This will be the sixth and final installment of the Zoom-based series, which was created by Black women artists to raise awareness and activation regarding voting rights.

More info from the press release sent to The Root:

The episode will re-imagine the classic show “A Different World” with Allen co-starring, Emmy nominee Stephanie Allain producing and Shahidi serving as host.

In Tuesday’s episode of “Zoom Where It Happens,” Thompson will play Kinu, McCreary will portray Whitley, Reid will play Freddie and Jaleesa, Allen will depict Adele, Benjamin will assume the role of Dwayne Wayne, and Lil Yachty will appear as Ron. The production team of this series includes Thompson, Ryan Bathe, Aisha Hinds, Cynthia Erivo, Kerry Washington, Rashida Jones, Stefanie and Quentin James, Latanya Richardson-Jackson, Channing Dungey, Karen Richardson, Issa Rae and Ava DuVernay.

I particularly love how Shahidi is hosting as she knows a little thing or two about starring in a sitcom about college life with Grown-ish (honestly, I did initially think she would portray Denise Huxtable when I saw her name, but I see they’re aiming for later on in the series). This year actually marks the 33rd anniversary of A Different World’s (a spinoff from The Cosby Show) debut. Fun Fact—in my recent interview with Allen (more on that soon!), she teased that she was set to direct something for the anniversary, but didn’t go into specifics. Now—putting two and two together—I know!

Zoom Where It Happens: A Different World will premiere Tuesday, Oct. 27 at 6:00 p.m. PST / 9:00 p.m. EST on Zoom. You can register for the event here.

Update: 10/27/2020, 6:03 p.m. ET: There have been additional cast members added to the lineup.

From the press release sent to The Root:

Actress Dawnn Lewis (who originally played Jaleesa in “A Different World” and wrote the theme song)

Actress Xosha Roquemore

Actor Vince Swann

Actor Norm “Thump” Nixon

It looks like there are some casting changes as well, in terms of which actor is reading for which role. According to the press release, “Kelly McCreary will portray Whitley, Reid will play Freddie, Roquemore will play Kinu and Jaleesa, Lewis will depict Adele, Swann will assume the role of Dwayne Wayne, Lil Yachty will appear as Ron, Benjamin will portray Mr. Gaines, and Nixon will play Matthew.” Thompson will remain on the production team for the episode.


Upon the initial news release, there were critiques on Twitter in regards to the display of colorism in the casting (which, I have to admit was immediately noticeable and I did pause a bit at Reid portraying Jaleesa, particularly).


So, it looks like the team heard the feedback and that was taken into account. It’s certainly important to always be mindful of this type of erasure.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.



Good Lord, they just can’t help but continue Cosby’s pathologically narcissistic love of the biracial, light-skinned woman/dark-skinned Black male paradigm, can they?!

Y’all pretend that brown- and dark-skinned Black women are paranoid and jealous all you want but know that pretending colorism doesn’t exist and doesn’t get perpetrated and perpetuated by those who most benefit but remember...

that’s how whites rationalize racism.