*The last time we spoke to the multi-talented Jasmine Guy she talked about what she’s been up to. Now we continue on with that conversation, but this time she deals with the unexpected legacy of ‘A Different World,’ the Cosby created college comedy that’s still running in syndication today.
“When you’re in it you really don’t that that’s what’s going on,” Guy told Lee Bailey. “I’m very grateful that what we did on that show was greater than we knew. While we were on it I thought that we could have done more. But Debbie (Allen) used to say ‘Do you know that enrollment in black colleges has tripled since we’ve been on the air?’
The sitcom made the college life appealing to many young African Americans, including myself.
“The impact of the show didn’t hit me until after I left the show,” she continued. “This is what I did! I came to a set and I went home. Now that I’ve been around the country and listening to kids say they went to school because of ‘A Different World’ or dudes telling me ‘I knew I could get a girl like Whitley because of Dwayne Wayne,’ that’s just incredible to me … the power of that medium. Also, back then we had 20 million people on three different networks watching the show. You don’t even get that now. Also, it was a Cosby show, (he) thought and did things his way and paid for it and fought for it. He knew the business. By the time Bill Cosby did ‘A Different World’ he had already done four or five television shows. He already knew what the animal was out here.”
The characters on the show were unique in several ways. It depicted an entire cast of intelligent African Americans that were aspiring to be more in their lives. But they weren’t in anyway similar or monolithic in behavior. Guy says the diverse cast and characters was empowering within itself. Some incredible actors and actresses graced the set as well.
“I was very aware of interpretation,” said Guy. “I knew the difference in the line reading and the depiction of the character and what that would do to our people. On ‘A Different World’ I had full freedom to be myself because we had so many other different people that were black, but gave different voices to our culture. So, I didn’t have to be the one voice like you have to on a lot of shows. Like when I did ‘NYPD Blue’ and I’m like ‘Oh, you just want me despicable.’ You can see it. If it’s not that important then how come I can’t say it how I want to say it? Why are you making me change?’ I know how important that is. I know how important our sexuality is. I see why they take certain things away. It’s because it’s power.”
Like many in the black community Guy feels the television and film mediums are depicting blacks the way others imagine them to be. The balance of character is missing. But that could change simply by allowing an actor to deliver a line his way.
“The image of black men – if we empower (the actor) – it’s delivery of the line this way or delivery of the line that way and it can be changed in the editing room. I’m very grateful ‘A Different World’ had that balance and it still resonates today.”
When we initially ran into Jasmine she was on the set of TV One’s ‘Way Black When’ special waiting to go on. She was there to help represent the 90s and many of her cast members were there as well.
“I feel like I’m at more of a high school reunion,” said Guy. “I feel like this is more my high school reunion than my actual high school reunion was. I was in a class of 500 so there were a lot of people that I didn’t know, but I know these people. When I saw pictures of Glynn Turman and Bill Duke, they were people that I used to talk to and that influenced my life. They were people I used to talk to. A lot of people invested in me, like Patti LaBelle. A lot of people came through the set of ‘A Different World.’ One day I looked at Charlie, who was playing Kim and I said ‘We got Superfly and Shaft up in here today!’ Thrilling! It feels so good to see them and their energy and their spirit because we all don’t make it 20 years later. We could get broken or broken down. Having lived long enough to see what life does to us, that makes me feel good. It’s been 25 years, I’m 48 now. On my first season of ‘A Different World’ I was 25 and it eventually ended when I was 30. 18 years ago we ended the show.”
As Lee and Jasmine continued roaming the set of ‘Way Black When’ the duo came across many of the most notable talents of the 90s. The gleeful actress must have felt like she was going “Black To the Future” instead of “Way Black When.”
“That’s what I’m saying! I’m buggin’ out, man! I feel like I am dreaming, I’m on a set, I’m in a play but I don’t know what the line is and I’m missing my entrance. And as I’m going to the wings I’m saying ‘What do I sing? What do I do?’ Then I pop up and run into Naughty By Nature, not cuz I hate ya! Then I run into Robert Townsend, who I haven’t seen in years,” Jasmine told EURweb.com as she and Lee turned what was supposed to be a 5 minute interview into a half-hour conversation.
It’s difficult to be oneself in the entertainment industry. That’s especially the case when dealing with journalists in the ‘TMZ’/’WSHH’ era, but it was apparent that talking to Uncle Lee brought back some fond memories.
“I remember my first Ebony interview, my first Jet interview, my first RadioScope interview, my first appearance on Soul Train. The thing was whether I could be myself because I was young. I wanted to represent. I didn’t want anything stupid to come out of my mouth. I remember having a ‘Newsweek’ interview where all she kept talking about was my mother was white, my father was black until I said ‘Why do you keep talking about that? What about that? Why don’t you ask me what they did for me? Why didn’t you ask me how smart they were? So what? One was white one was black, where does the conversation go after that? They raised me! I’m doing well! What, you want me to bitch about being mixed?”