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Phylicia Rashad Says There Is Nothing Abnormal About Successful Black Families

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phylicia rashadby Afiya J. Watkins

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 30 years since The Cosby Show first entered the homes and hearts of millions. In particular, the show greatly changed the way African Americans saw ourselves in the media, and provided an alternative view for how others saw us. It is fair to regard it an American treasure, as it is one of the most iconic shows in television history bringing instant fame and recognition to all of its characters; none looming larger than Claire, the family’s firm but loving matriarch played by the talented, Phylicia Rashad for 8 seasons.

After many years in television and film roles, Rashad is back in the highly anticipated big screen drama Frankie & Alice, in which she stars as Halle Berry’s mother. The role is quite a departure for the actress, as she plays the mother of a woman with multiple personality disorder caused by a traumatic incident from her childhood.

This role promises to be a grittier project for Rashad who in her years since the airing of Cosby, has had to address some backlash from critics who believe the show’s portrayal of an upscale African-American family wasn’t realistic. In an interview with theGrio, Rashad opened up about some of the criticism that the sitcom received.

“Of course there were [critics]. The Huxtable family in terms of the parents’ personal and professional development is not an invention of the ’80s,” Rashad said. “If you know anything about people and anything about history at all, you know that there were always people of color who were educated. There ain’t been a time in this world that that has not been so. People need to get a grip.”

Rashad has been vocal about the shows cultural impact, and on Oprah’s Next Chapter on OWN, Oprah discussed the impact The Cosby Show had on the election of President Barack Obama.

“We probably wouldn’t have the president in the office that we have right now had there not been the Bill Cosby show because The Cosby Show introduced America to a way of seeing black people and black culture, that they had not seen before,” Oprah said.

Rashad is modest about the link between the Huxtables and the Obamas, but says that The Cosby Show had a net positive effect on the American psyche.

“I think that is a great compliment to Mr. Cosby, because it was his sensibilities that were at the root of The Cosby Show,” said the Tony-winning actress. “It was his sensibilities that moved that work in the direction which it went. I always have felt that The Cosby Show was without question some of the best [public relations] for the United States of America that has ever existed. [The Cosby Show] allowed people around the world to see that we are all much more alike than we could ever be different.”

According to theGrio, Rashad discussed reports that circulated earlier this year of a new deal Cosby inked with NBC to bring a family sitcom back to the network. The For Colored Girls actress says that she’s excited by the prospect of his return to television, but doesn’t think he will call her to be a part of the new project.

“Anytime Mr. Cosby calls, I’m there,” said Rashad. “But he’s not going to call me for this. And he doesn’t have to… and it’s just fine.”

“I am so grateful at just the prospect of his returning to primetime television. It makes me so happy. It makes me so joyful. Because it felt to me that at the conclusion of those 8 years all of the industry seemed to pretend like it didn’t happen.”

After the success and cultural impact of the Cosby Show, it is hard to believe that it would fade from our collective consciousness or that of the “industry”, for that matter.

Frankie & Alice opens in select theaters nationwide on April 4th.


  1. Jacqueline R Banks

    April 6, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Your Black World is an excellent forum to host the diversity of views among African Americans.

  2. Meghann

    April 6, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    We need to talk to and get to know successful African-Americans in our communities. We have doctors, lawyers, policemen, firemen, etc. All are role models.

    I remember my school would have career day and invite men and women in the African-American communities who ran their own businesses.

    It was fascinating to hear the stories of store owners, male and female tailors and of course hair stylists. It was so much fun to hear them tell about their careers and how they achieved their dreams…it gave all of us hope.

  3. Berdell Fleming

    April 6, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    I agree with her but it also depends on what you define as sucessfull.
    It really means being happy from within.

  4. SweetTweet

    April 6, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    Phylicia, you said what I have always thought. I was always insulted when I would hear African Americans say the show wasn’t real. I graduated from Grambling when it wasn’t a popular choice for students in Chicago to do.

  5. Liz

    April 7, 2014 at 12:55 am

    There are thousands of sucessfull, well educated African American families. Folks who do not know this probably choose not to know this and have very little to do with any communities that have an HBCU institutions in the area. We have thousands of college graduates who have families that doing very well. Attend homecoming or any of HBCU classic games, like the Alabama classics, 90,000 attendance, mostly college graduates. We must empower our communities with the truth, thanks Felicia for doing so publicly.

  6. Sasha

    April 7, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    I was ALWAYS offended when I would comments about it not being realistic that Blacks could be successful and not live in the “ghetto”. One can be successful in whatever they do and that’s from being the janitor to being a college professor. It’s all about how you live that success and being proud of it.

  7. LeahO

    April 7, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    Most black ppl I’ve met have been highly successful & intelligent. We had an assoc. pastor at my old church who would preach for hours on end but I could listen to that guy talk all day and not get bored.

  8. Rick

    April 8, 2014 at 8:11 am

    This discussion puts me in the mind of the kids at school, who criticize their fellow Black students for being smart or achieving good grades. This is often said to be acting white. How sad is that? To think that only white people are smart is the epitome of self hatred and Uncle Tomism. The same self-hatred is voiced in the resentment of an educated middle-class family.

  9. Rob

    April 28, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Why can’t it be realistic a prominent black family existing? No family is perfect black or white rich or poor. the show didn’t portray them as not having problems. It showed the same problems we have in every day life only difference is they had statis attached to it and I think that was great!!! We need more shows like that…

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