BET’s new show scripted show about a fictional Black college, The Quad, has generated some positive reviews. But its storylines that include a shady band director, a strip club-owning alumnus, a college president with secrets and issues of her own have angered others. Hampton University’s president, William R. Harvey had several issues with the show after seeing the first extended episode and fired off an angry letter to BET’s president Debra L. Lee.
While Black Twitter reminded Harvey that the show was fictional, Lee took the criticism seriously and responded to Harvey, as did the show’s star, FAMU grad Anika Noni Rose.
Just after the show premiered, Harvey sent Lee a scathing letter criticizing the show. He called it “a sad, derisive and degenerating story,” and “an incredibly disparaging depiction of the HBCUs I know and love.”
Harvey continued: “Devoid of any reference to academics, The Quad is about a president who is promiscuous, trustees who are unwilling to deal with a rogue band director, and a band director who condones criminal activity on the part of his drum major.
The Quad will lead many to believe that HBCUs exist because of their marching bands; that our presidents are unethical; that our boards are dysfunctional and have misplaced priorities; that our faculty, students and administrators are driven by sex, alcohol, marijuana, low self-esteem, parties and a preoccupation with music; that it is acceptable to disrespect women; that university policy can be set by a band director; and that there are no standards of conduct or penalties for bad behavior.
This depiction seems more analogous to a disgruntled, adolescent and unrealistic point of view that some may have. It also feeds a false narrative about the irrelevance of HBCUs.”
EBONY caught up with Lee at BET Presents The American Black Film Festival Honors to get her thoughts on Harvey’s criticism.
“I talked to Dr. Harvey the other day and we had a good conversation. He started off by saying conversation is key, and I listened to him and he listened to me. I respect his opinion,” Lee said. “My point that I emphasized was that this was a fictional story. It’s not representing any particular college.
Fictional TV has drama, you have good guys and bad guys. We had a good conversation and I hope students, administrators and parents will take the issues that we’re dealing with on The Quad seriously and discuss them during and after the show, because we are dealing with serious issues that happen on all campuses, not just HBCUs.”
Rose, herself an HBCU grad, told Ebony:
“I think what’s important when we’re referencing that letter is that this is someone who saw one episode and made a lot of opinions off of one episode.”
“The show is a fiction, but the show is a fiction based in fact. A lot of the things that we are dealing with and talking about are taken straight from the headlines of what has happened at schools,” she explained. “So to pretend that these things don’t happen is ridiculous.”
“It’s a drama, it’s not a comedy, so things are going to be larger than life. Things are going to be drawn out in a very different way, and perhaps the show is not for that person. But let’s be clear it is not a documentary,” Rose said. “Our shows have to be more positive, more respectable, more high-end that anything else that is seen,” she told EBONY.
“I understand what that’s from. It’s because we aren’t seen enough, so we don’t have enough sides of us [shown] to sometimes feel comfortable. But if we’re going to show humanity and human behavior, we cannot only show the glossy parts. We cannot only show the PhD, full family, living on a hill with a fence. We can’t only show that because that’s not all of reality, that’s not all of humanity, and it’s dishonest to show that one side.”
“It’s really important to be clear that we are showing human life. Women do run institutions, women do have sex, hazing does happen at schools—all schools, not just HBCUs—people do affairs, it happens. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.”
To the Quad’s critics who have a problem with the show, the actress has some simple advice: “If it’s not for you, turn the station.”