15 Great ’90s TV Shows Featuring People of Color
While diversity appears to be a problem in Hollywood these days, back in the ‘90s, it wasn’t an issue to find television shows featuring leads who were people of color.
In fact, the ‘90s saw many shows with vibrant casting and African American leads — some of which became cult classics.
Though there is a bit of resurgence of diversity on TV in recent years, these 15 shows with black leads were definitely dominating the ‘90s:
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In the House (1995)
Before LL Cool J was fighting crime on NCIS: Los Angeles, he showed his comedic timing on this sitcom as Marion Hill, a former football player who rented part of his home to divorcée Jackie Warren (Debbie Allen), her two kids Tiffany (Maia Campbell) and Austin (Jeff Wood), and owned his own sports clinic with friends Tonia Harris (Kim Wayans) and Dr. Maxwell Stanton (Alfonso Ribeiro).
Though Brandy made her sitcom debut on the short-lived Thea, the singer struck gold as the lead in her coming-of-age comedy. The show also starred Sheryl Lee Ralph as Moesha’s Jamaican teacher-turned-stepmom and Countess Vaughn as her lovable yet not-so-bright best friend Kimberly “Kim” Parker. The singer’s brother Ray J would later join the cast as her secret brother, Dorian.
The Parkers (1999)
The Moesha spinoff that everyone loved followed the life of Mo’s best friend Kim as she maneuvered through college with her mom Nikki Parker (played by comedian Mo’Nique), who decided to finish her education after dropping out in high school to have her daughter.
Sister, Sister (1994)
Tia and Tamera Mowry played minor roles in Full House as brother Tahj Mowry’s on-screen older sisters. Years later they starred in the now cult-classic, playing teenaged twins separated at birth and living together with their polar-opposite parents Ray (Tim Reid) and Lisa (Jackée Harry). Talk about a full house.
Smart Guy (1997)
Tahj Mowry later got his own show, Smart Guy, where he played a 12-year-old genius attending high school, aggravating his not-so-smart brother Marcus (Jason Weaver), and his rather mature sister Tasha (Essence Atkins).
A Different World (1987)
While A Different World didn’t start in the ‘90s, the show — a spin-off of The Cosby Show — displayed the lives of various students and staffers at the fictitious (and famed) HBCU Hillman College. Initially starring Lisa Bonet, the show went on to feature many stars including Marisa Tomei, Kadeem Hardison, Cree Summer, Jasmine Guy, Sinbad, Joe Morton and Patti LaBelle. Best. Cast. Ever.
Family Matters (1989)
While the Tanners were having fun in San Francisco, the Winslows were showing America life in Chicago was just as rough with an extended family living under one roof. Initially a Perfect Stranger spinoff, Family Matters definitely blossomed into its own — with special thanks to Jaleel White’s Steven Q. Urkel, who was the pioneer for black nerd culture on TV.
After being the comedic relief in various cult-films like House Party and Boomerang, Martin Lawrence brought his pitch perfect comedic timing to his sitcom, which revolved around his shock DJ persona Martin Payne, his girlfriend Gina Waters (Tisha Campbell-Martin), and their zany group of friends. Making the show even better was Martin’s ability to play eight other distinct characters.
Living Single (1993)
Before there was Sex & The City or Friends, Queen Latifah parlayed her rapping fame into a very success show called Living Single that followed single and successful black friends living in a Brooklyn brownstone. While Queen played Flavor publisher Kadijah James, Kim Fields played her fashionista friend from New Jersey. Erika Alexandra was her sharp attorney college bud Maxine Shaw (“Attorney at Law”) and Kim Coles played her lovable but dim-witted cousin Sinclair James.
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990)
Will Smith’s claim to fame was this comedy about a young man leaving the ‘hood of Philadelphia for the sweet life with his wealthy relatives in Bel-Air. Of course, there were shenanigans to be had as he tried to bring his street savvy to posh cousins Hilary (Karyn Parsons), Ashley (Tatyana Ali), and Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro).
The Jamie Foxx Show (1996)
Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx was just a Texan with dreams of being an actor in this fun comedy. Featuring a cast of Garrett Morris and Garcelle Beauvais, Jamie bides his time in his aunt and uncle’s struggling hotel in L.A. waiting for his big break.
In Living Color (1990)
The brainchild of New York comedian Kenan Ivory Wayans, In Living Color gave the world some of the best characters and skits. It also was the diving board for people like Jennifer Lopez, Rosie Perez, and Jim Carrey. That’s right — if there wasn’t In Living Color, there probably wouldn’t be a J.Lo!
The Wayans Bros. (1995)
Young Wayans brothers Shawn and Marlon definitely used their fame and knowledge of the industry during their time on In Living Color to strike out on their own with this family show centered around two brothers living in Harlem. But it was their very eclectic (and cheap) restaurateur dad Pops (John Witherspoon) who often stole the show.
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Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper (1992)
After her run on The Cosby Show, Raven-Symone continued her TV success on the beloved show, Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, which starred Mark Curry as a “larger-than-life” teacher living with several female roommates. Raven played his cousin, Nicole, alongside Vanessa (Holly Robinson Peete), Robin Dumars (Dawnn Lewis), and her on-screen mother Geneva Lee (Saundra Quarterman)
The Parent ‘Hood (1995)
Possibly considered The Cosby Show of the mid-90s, The Parent’Hood was the Robert Townsend-led family series about a college professor, his law student wife Jerri (Suzanne Douglas), and the couple’s three kids living in Harlem, NY.
The Steve Harvey Show (1996)
Long before he was the host of Family Feud (or his own talk show), Steve Harvey played a former funk legend forced to become a teacher in a Chicago High School with severe cutbacks on The Steve Harvey Show. Thankfully, his best friend Cedric (Cedric the Entertainer) is working beside him as he tries to get on the good side of Principal Regina Grier (Wendy Raquel Robinson), who Steve used to torment for being overweight in their youth.
The show was also great for reuniting several All That stars including Kel Mitchell, Kenan Thompson, and Lori Beth Denberg.
Maybe it’s time Hollywood revisits the success of having people of color in projects!