‘Diarra From Detroit’ Creator Talks Importance of Black Shows

Diarra Kilpatrick knows two things intimately: Black women and the city of Detroit. Unsurprisingly, the writer-actor’s stellar freshman dramedy, BET+’s “Diarra From Detroit,” which follows a recently separated school teacher entangled in a decades-long mystery, pays homage to this group of women and her hometown.

Kilpatrick leads the series as Diarra, who moves into her childhood home following an explosive fight with her husband, Francois (Morris Chestnut). Unwilling to confront her deteriorating marriage, Diarra distracts herself with a Tinder date. However, after she’s subsequently ghosted, she lets rage and insomnia consume her. Determined to get some answers, she embarks on a quest to find the date that disappeared and solve an infamous case about a missing young boy.

Diarra is a formidable force in her inner-city elementary school classroom, but her personal life is in disarray. Emotionally drained, she doesn’t have the energy to hide it. “I think a lot of working writers don’t know Black women intimately,” Kilpatrick says. “They see the one side — the person that they work with or the woman that maybe works for them or works with them — but they don’t know what it’s like for that woman to show their vulnerability.”

Merging Diarra’s present state with the unsolved case was no easy feat, especially as more leads were unveiled. “It was very complicated, and I think the thing that we grabbed hold of and held on to for dear life was the clue chain,” Kilpatrick says. “We really focused on what clue was leading to the next clue, and that really helped.”

The world that Kilpatrick and her writers built around the character features one of the most colorful and thrilling casts on screen today. “They’re a really funny, really talented bunch, and I’m just really grateful that we found them and that they just fit so well; it becomes a partnership,” she says. “You create the character, but then once you cast it, it becomes a collaboration of who that person is.”

While “Diarra From Detroit” uses New Jersey as a stand-in for the Midwestern city, the settings and costuming are so perfectly crafted that viewers would never know the difference. “We really wanted to marry it to character and place,” Kilpatrick explains. “That’s where the Detroit of it all comes in. We are not an understated group of people. We announce our swag; we announce our style. And I think that’s truly authentic to the place, and it is a place where people will spend their last dollar on a great pair of shoes or a great coat. Our costume designers, Paige Geran and Anitra Michelle, had a ball, and they really met the moment.”

As series with Black-led casts vanish from the small screen, Kilpatrick isn’t afraid to label “Diarra From Detroit” a “Black show,” explaining, “For me, it is an unapologetically Black show with an unapologetic invitation to everyone to join the party. I wanted this woman to feel like a culturally specific Black woman. And at the same time, I wanted the journey that she went on to be so exciting and so fun and funny that you would have to not like fun to not enjoy the show.”

Brilliantly witty with a stunning blend of genres rarely seen on television, “Diarra From Detroit” is layered with love and intentionality. As her character was learning to trust her gut, Kilpatrick was on a parallel journey. “My guiding principle is always myself as a viewer,” she says. “I’m trying to entertain myself, make myself happy, and keep myself from changing the channel — keep myself locked into the story. I might be crazy, but I think this is right. I think I’m onto something.”

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