“In a 90’s kinda world, I’m glad I’ve got my girls,” seems like a cliche phrase now. But in the early nineties, while it was a reality in many of our mothers’, aunties’ and cousins’ lives, it wasn’t depicted on television and film. “Living Single,”(1993-1998) created and executive produced by Yvette Browser Lee, was one of the first shows to put female friendship between Black women at the heart of its storytelling.
While Khadijah, Maxine, Régine and Synclaire had their fair share of man and work troubles, the story always came back to the relationship with the women and the ways they supported one another. Despite their differences, these Black women, who each had her own particular set of skills, worked better when they were together.
And the ratings for the series showed that it was the type of representation the community needed to see. For the duration of all five of its seasons, “Living Single,” was always within the top five among African American audiences. And in 1994, it bested “Martin,” ranking eighth among young adults and number 1 with African Americans for a show in any time slot. It was a move that shocked critics.
It’s no surprise that Hollywood took note of its success. Afterward, we would have films like Waiting to Exhale, Set It Off and television shows with Black, female leads, with an emphasis on friendship like “Moesha,” and “Sister, Sister.”
And quiet as it’s kept, it’s responsible for the creation of “Friends.” (Only Warner Brothers put more money behind their White show.)
Then, during the late nineties and early 2000s, there was “Girlfriends,” perhaps the show most directly influenced by “Living Single,” with modernized depictions of Black women and the issues they were facing. After that, the number of shows with Black leads waned and then it seemed like they disappeared entirely.
Now, thankfully, we’re seeing a resurgence. And, on the 25th anniversary of “Living Single,” we have to acknowledge the fact that the show is directly responsible for the shows we see on television today. After all, the Black creatives that are winning in the television and film space today, were children of the nineties who were watching “Living Single.” Lena Waithe speaks often of its influence and perhaps had something to do with Yvette Lee Bowser’s involvement as the showrunner on the Netflix series “Dear White People.”
Issa Rae is another one who consistently credits “Living Single” as an inspiration for her wanting to create content using Black women leads. And if you’ve seen a single episode of “Insecure,” behind all the drama that happens with men, poor decisions and jobs that don’t treat and pay Black women as they should, it’s a show about the friendship between two [dark skinned] Black women in particular, and four Black women in general. Issa has taken it farther than what we saw in the 90’s with “Living Single,” and that’s what she was supposed to do. Art is supposed to evolve. But who can say what we would be watching during the summer Sundays if it weren’t for “Living Single’s” model.
Check out the cast reflecting on the show’s impact in the video below.