During our Zoom conversation, Diarra Kilpatrick wasted no time asking me, "Where are you from?" Now, I may proudly represent New Jersey, but when it comes to showcasing Detroit, nobody does it better than Kilpatrick herself. Born and raised in the Motor City, this multi-talented individual, currently shining in HBO's Perry Mason, is injecting a dose of authentic Detroit flavor into BET+ with her latest series, Diarra From Detroit, scheduled to premiere on BET+ later this year.
From her humble beginnings in Detroit, Michigan, to her journey in the entertainment industry, Kilpatrick has consistently shattered barriers and redefined the meaning of success in today's artistic landscape. Whether it's acting or writing, Kilpatrick is a true multi-hyphenate.
Her passion for theater and performance guided her to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. This period marked the nurturing of her acting and writing abilities, setting the stage for a fruitful career in film and television. Yet, even during her Detroit upbringing, her interests were already ignited.
"My mother was my ultimate inspiration. As a single parent, she made sure I experienced every play, concert, and art opening. If there was a Black man playing jazz on a street corner, we were there. Every jazz fest, we attended. She immersed me in countless Black cultural events. If I had any talent whatsoever in any of those areas, I felt destined to become an artist," Kilpatrick fondly reminisces.
Childhood memories often hold a special place in our hearts. For Kilpatrick, one such memory revolves around the first major musical she witnessed live. Despite various renditions of Dream Girls over the years, a three-year-old Diarra distinctly recalls the version she saw at Detroit's Fisher Theatre.
"I even got the cast album, played it on my Big Bird record player—it was on vinyl," she recollects with nostalgia.
When conversing with Detroit natives, their profound sense of pride is palpable. While some unfairly criticize the Motor City, others dare not utter a negative word. Detroit has gifted the world with exceptional talents like Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, and Berry Gordy. Each of these legends has left an indelible mark on the entertainment industry, and one day, Kilpatrick hopes her name will be mentioned alongside them.
Kilpatrick embarked on her acting journey in the early 2000s, gracing a variety of television shows and independent films. And yet, it was taking the leap of faith to venture on her own with the creation of her groundbreaking web series, American Koko, that truly established her presence. As the writer, producer, and star of the show, Kilpatrick showcased her ability to craft genuine, thought-provoking narratives that resonated with audiences. The series garnered critical acclaim, earning her a coveted spot on Forbes' 2017 edition of “30 Under 30 List” and a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for “Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series.”
Being a true multi-hyphenate, Kilpatrick has also lent her writing talents to television, writing for series including The Last OG and I'm Dying Up Here, while currently captivating audiences in HBO's Perry Mason. True to her Detroit roots, Kilpatrick's next venture is rooted in her hometown and exudes the dark comedy she believes lurks around every corner.
Kilpatrick will take center stage in Diarra from Detroit, where she not only stars but has also written and produced. Described as a dark comedy, the series follows the journey of a divorcing teacher with an acerbic sense of humor who refuses to accept being ghosted by her rebound Tinder date. The plot takes a dark twist when she believes she has stumbled upon an unsolved case while digging for more information about her mysteriously vanished Tinder date.
"I love that this series portrays a Black woman—a real Black woman—with these relatable first-world struggles of heartbreak, the need for answers, and the quest for truth in a relationship," she enthusiastically shares.
For Kilpatrick, the joy of writing and acting in this series stems from the opportunity to create a character brimming with curiosity, quirkiness, and depth. It is a particularly empowering experience as Black women characters are often constrained from embodying such multifaceted qualities. With the series making its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival, it promises to authentically showcase all the elements that truly make Detroit, Detroit.
"I was born and raised in Detroit. I grew up in Section Eight housing with my mother. However, I've always had this quirky, whimsical perspective on things. So, in a way, my point of view on Detroit, the Black community and experiences there shines through this admittedly more eccentric lens," Kilpatrick explains.
She adds, "Often, we fail to find stories that acknowledge Detroit's gritty aspects or the fact that the hood can be a dangerous place. But just as there are gangs, violence, and challenges, there's also an inherent comedy within the Black community. Sometimes, the harshest circumstances bring forth the funniest punchlines, like tales shared at family reunions. We wanted to honor that unique essence."
Diarra from Detroit serves as a testament to Kilpatrick’s dedication to storytelling – one that resonates with diverse audiences while showcasing the vibrant and complex facets of Detroit's culture. She is determined to shed light on the multifaceted nature of Detroit, challenging stereotypes and showcasing the depth and complexity of its communities.
Through her work on Diarra from Detroit, Kilpatrick is poised to create a new wave of representation for Black women characters. Breaking free from the confines of limited portrayals, she crafts a character who embodies curiosity, quirkiness, and a thirst for truth and thus paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse entertainment landscape.