Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have had a significant impact on Black culture, and their influence on Black TV and Film cannot be understated.
Stars like Chadwick Boseman, Taraji P. Henson, Spike Lee, and many others with HBCU roots, have made their imprints in Hollywood and have helped establish a place for creatives from HBCUs.
There is a different level of power that comes with representation and for many HBCU alumni in the entertainment industry, their work becomes an inspiration for so many others in the HBCU community.
In a 2018 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Spike Lee spoke about how powerful his movie School Daze was on his viewers and how the film provided excellent exposure for HBCUs.
“Thirty years later, people still come up to me and say, ‘Spike, you are the reason I went to a black school. I didn’t even know there were black schools. You are the reason I went to college. You are the reason I am in this job,” stated Lee. “That film really changed people’s lives.”
Lee was impacted greatly by his HBCU experience at Morehouse College and the film class that he took at Clark Atlanta University. In many ways, Lee’s productions have helped shine a light on HBCUs and pay homage to the experience that had a large impact on his career.
“My father went to Morehouse, my grandfather went to Morehouse, my mother went to Spelman, and my grandmother went to Spelman. I took a class at Clark with my film professor Dr. Eichelberger, who is still there teaching at Clark AU. He’s the one that really said that I should try to pursue filmmaking,” Lee said according to Buzzfeed in 2015.
“School Daze, very simply, is my four years at Morehouse and the impact of the homecoming weekend. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I remember the man directing the coronation my senior year and that was a big success that left me with confidence… I think black colleges are very essential to our education of young black minds. Being black in this country is never going to get old. There’s an understanding, a nurturing at HBCUs, that you might not get elsewhere.”
Howard University graduate, Anthony Anderson who is one of the stars of the popular Black TV series Black-ish, explained what made his HBCU experience so special. Anderson is now one of the most notable Black actors in all of Hollywood and his HBCU experience likely has a lot to do with that.
“Howard University was the only college I applied to, because of the history of their fine arts department. The likes of Debbie Allen and Phylicia Rashad and Roberta Flack had come through those doors,” Anderson said according to BuzzFeed in 2015.
“I go back and I meet students and I go to homecoming. I talk about how great it is, and I’m like, well, you know, there was never really a better time at Howard than when I was there,” continued Anderson.
“I understand that every generation has their time, or whatnot, but we had Puff, we had Ananda Lewis we had AJ Calloway, we had myself, Wendy Raquel Robinson, we had Wendy Davis, we had Carl Anthony Payne, we had Marlon Wayans, we had the group Shai — Taraji P. Henson! And I say, you look at all the people that I have named, and how we’ve become successful in our own fields, in our own right. Just imagine all of that creative energy on the yard at the same time.”
HBCUs have traditionally been left out of the conversation by white decision-makers in the entertainment industry. However, the perseverance and impact of many of the HBCU grads that have thrived in recent decades have helped try to create a new culture in Hollywood that focuses on giving these illustrious institutions the shine they deserve for their impact on the industry.