A Different World was the spin-off series that generations needed. The successful Cosby Show follow-up was originally meant to be the story of following the Huxtable’s eldest child Denise to college. However, the show was received so well that it grew well outside of Denise after her Season 1 departure due to off-screen life choices.
The show originally premiered in 1987, and over the course of its six seasons, A Different World became a cultural staple for many Black Americans living the Historically Black College or University (HBCU) experience, or gave a window into the experience for those who attended predominantly white institutions (PWIs).
So many people worked on and gained career advancements through A Different World, whether acting or on the production crew, including choreographer and actress Debbie Allen. Allen became the show’s producer/director and creative voice, given that she attended Howard University and had firsthand knowledge to authenticate the HBCU experience.
A Different World‘s stars went on to become greats in their own right, but many will remember their names and faces from the cultural-shifting series. Let’s take a look.
Lisa Bonet left the show to start her family
Though A Different World was originally about Lisa Bonet’s character Denise Huxtable going off to the fictional Hillman College, she didn’t remain on the show for long. During the first season, she had a typical college experience — navigating friends, struggling with her grades, making romantic connections — but off-screen, Bonet had much more pressing concerns.
When it was revealed that Bonet was pregnant (by her former husband musician Lenny Kravitz), Bill Cosby didn’t want the character of Denise to go that route. While showrunner Debbie Allen was comfortable with the plot line, as mentioned in an interview with the Archive of American Television, Cosby was against Denise’s “good girl character” being tarnished by an unwed pregnancy.
Bonet’s character was written off A Different World as ultimately traveling to Africa. Outside of the Cosby universe, Bonet went on to star in movies and shows including New Eden, High Fidelity, and Biker Boyz. Bonet is now dating Game of Thrones actor Jason Momoa. Her 31-year-old daughter Zoe Kravitz, who’s also an actress, actually played her mom’s character in the Hulu remake of High Fidelity.
Jasmine Guy received multiple NAACP Image Awards
Jasmine Guy was a major player of the Hillman College band of friends. The pretentious Southern Belle, Whitley Gilbert, showcased a specific college student archetype. With the departure of Lisa Bonet, Guy’s character became a central part of many of the show’s plotlines, including her romantic relationship with Dwayne Wayne (played by Kadeem Hardison).
Given the success A Different World and Gilbert being well received by media, Guy won six consecutive NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, per her IMDb profile. The wins propelled Guy’s career forward as she went on to work in television (notably The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Roots: The Saga of an American Family, and The Vampire Diaries), film (Harlem Nights, Cats Don’t Dance, and short film My Nephew Emmett), and even on the theatrical stage (The Wiz and Chicago).
The Atlanta native currently has a recurring role on Grey’s Anatomy — currently in its 16th season — as Gemma Larson, a recovering alcoholic that’s friends with main character Richard Webber (played by James Pickens Jr.).
Kadeem Hardison workedon numerous movies and TV shows
The world was infatuated with Kadeem Hardison as the charismatic and nerdy Dwayne Wayne. The love connection between Wayne and Jasmine Guy’s character Whitley Gilbert was a love story that fans of the show couldn’t get enough of. Their back-and-forth entanglements led to a grand gesture with Gilbert standing in a wedding dress (rom-com goals, TBH).
While A Different World was his claim to fame as his most notable role, Hardison is a respected actor in both TV and film. Since then, he went on to work on numerous movies (The 6th Man, Vampire in Brooklyn, and Some Other Time, to name a few) and recurring TV roles (including Living Single, Between Brothers, and Abby) and remains a respected name in his craft.
More recently he played a role in the 2019 Paddleton, a comedy-drama film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was later released to Netflix.
Cree Summer is a popular and well-known voice actress
Cree Summer played Winifred “Freddie” Brooks, the stereotypical free-spirited, hippie college student who was “down for the cause” and was forever looking to make a political statement. Summer’s character was all about activism and creating an impact in societal, environmental, and communal causes.
While Summer found success as a live-action actress (appearing in Living Single and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), she’s widely known for her talents as a voice actress. Her unique and raspy voice could be heard voicing over 400 cartoon characters, according to Behind The Voice Actors. Her lengthy and impressive résumé includes Penny in Inspector Gadget, Elmyra Duff in Tiny Toon Adventures, Miranda from Nickelodeon’s As Told By Ginger, and Valerie Gray in Nickelodeon’s Danny Phantom.
She also voiced characters for over 20 video games, including the Fallout series and the Final Fantasy franchise. Summer’s latest project will be the live-action film, Clifford the Big Red Dog, based off the popular children’s TV series. Summer will be voicing Cleo. The movie is slated to release Nov. 13, 2020, per The Hollywood Reporter.
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