This was posted Tuesday, January 31, 2107 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
Complex, multi-faceted black women are now leading multiple dramas, courtesy of ABC and BET: Viola Davis on “How To Get Away With Murder,” Kerry Washington on “Scandal” and Gabrielle Union on “Being Mary Jane.”
Anika Noni Rose (“For Colored Girls,” “Dreamgirls”) has joined the ranks with BET’s latest scripted effort “The Quad,” which is set at a fictional historically black college in Atlanta named Georgia A&M. The drama, shot locally as well, debuts Wednesday at 10 p.m. after a Nelson Mandela mini-series starring Laurence Fishburne called “Madiba.” (BET is not about booty videos anymore.)
Rose plays Dr. Eva Fletcher, the new president of Georgia A&M, an Ivy League educated Northerner who left her previous job under murky circumstances. We soon learn it may have had something to do with a young graduate student nicknamed “Six Pack.”
Fletcher is whip smart and quickly goes to work getting the university’s ailing budget under control. But she is a fish out of water. She faces an arrogant marching band director unwilling to sacrifice in any way and a resistant board member who wanted her job and will do anything to undermine her credibility. Sexism, she quickly notices, is embedded in the DNA of the school.
“I like that she’s a woman with faults,” said Rose. “She is dealing with a new culture. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad culture. She just has a lot to learn.”
Fletcher’s closest ally at the university is a professor and board member played by Atlanta-based actress Jasmine Guy, who played the iconic Southern belle Whitley Gilbert on NBC’s hit show “A Different World” set at an HBCU from 1987 to 1993.
Guy said it was wonderful that “The Quad” script writers ensured her character Ella Grace Caldwell would support Fletcher in a true mentor-like fashion.
“I love that you have an older woman that is a friend with a younger woman and wants her to succeed,” said Guy. “She’s invested in Fletcher’s success. She helped get her there. It’s in her best interest for Fletcher to soar and do well. I am glad it’s a relationship where the women are not adversarial or jealous or catty.”
Rose just enjoyed being in the presence of Guy. “She’s no holds barred,” she said. “She will say what’s on her mind. She’s a hoot. She is someone I really looked up to as a kid through her character on ‘A Different World.’ It was awesome to work with her.”
The show is not just about internal politics. The students get plenty of love, too. There are marching band members, including Fletcher’s daughter. There are football players, including a white back-up quarterback Fletcher recruits who might be able to help the team’s ailing fortunes. There is a wannabe rap artist with soulful eyes who gives a nod to Atlanta’s musical roots.
One of the show’s key creators is Atlanta-based Rob Hardy, who helped found Atlanta-based Bounce TV and co-created films such as “The Gospel,” “Stomp the Yard” and “Think Like a Man.”
Both Hardy and Rose attended Florida A&M a year apart in the early 1990s when “A Different World” was airing. “Georgia A&M is very different from FAMU,” Hardy said, “but it’s kind of an ode to the school.”
But he has no desire to sugarcoat the HBCU experience. A hazing incident that evokes a real-life FAMU death is a central plot point this season. “We wanted to tell real contemporary stories,” Hardy said. “We wanted to deal with it with respect. To some people, [hazing] is iron sharpening iron, a boot camp that makes them stronger. Everyone does not haze. It doesn’t happen in every school. When it does, there are reasons why.”
Hardy was also able to take advantage of Atlanta’s civil rights’ past, featuring both the Center for Civil and Human Rights and civil rights legend C.T. Vivian in the opening episode: “We’re positioning Georgia A&M as a living, breathing institution with history.” He is hoping to get Andrew Young and Bernice King aboard for cameos, perhaps for another season if the show gets picked up.
He also cared deeply about realism. Former Arena League football players are featured to run the plays. The man who choreographed the marching band did the same with the 2002 hit film “Drumline.” The production used Morehouse and Morris Brown college campuses for Georgia A&M.
Hardy is naturally hoping for a hit. He recently screened the pilot at Clark Atlanta University, the first time “The Quad” was seen by an audience of college students. “They loved it,” he said. “They were talking at the screen. It took me back to being that age. Everyone was excited. The movie feels alive.”
“The Quad,” debuts 10 p.m. Wednesday, February 1, BET