In 'Diarra from Detroit,' Diarra Kilpatrick sets a whodunit in her hometown Growing up, when Diarra Kilpatrick watched murder mystery shows with her grandmother, she never saw Black women driving the narrative. She seeks to change that in her new new BET+ series.

A first date turns into a whodunit in 'Diarra from Detroit'

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Tonya Mosley. When actor, writer and producer Diarra Kilpatrick was a little girl growing up in Detroit, she'd snuggle up on the couch with her grandmother to watch murder mystery shows like "Matlock" and "Columbo" and "Perry Mason." And while she took note that all of the women in her life seemed to be obsessed with these kind of shows, she never saw Black women driving the narrative. It's part of the inspiration for her new series "Diarra From Detroit," which recently premiered on BET+.

Described as a homegirl whodunit, "Diarra From Detroit" is a dark comedy about a public school teacher going through a divorce who decides to hit the dating scene. She has an amazing first date with a guy she met on Tinder, but soon after, he ghosts her. And there begins the hunt to find out why. Diarra's search leads her to a decades-old mystery and the crime underbelly of Detroit. In addition to this latest series, Diarra is an actress, writer, and producer who created and starred in the ABC Digital Original satirical comedy "American Koko," for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award. She also starred in three seasons of the HBO period drama series "Perry Mason."

Diarra Kilpatrick, welcome to FRESH AIR.

DIARRA KILPATRICK: Thank you so much. I am so happy to be here.

MOSLEY: I'm really happy to have you. And I just want to say, this work is unlike anything I've ever seen, so I'm about to use a lot of words to describe it. It's smart and funny while also interweaving some very serious topics, like the epidemic of missing Black children and the social and economic challenges of Detroit. You also tackle divorce and friendship and betrayal and police corruption. And did I mention that it's funny? I just want to know, is this a story that you were conceiving when you sat down? Where did the germ of this idea start?

KILPATRICK: Ooh, well, you talked about, you know, me watching a lot of "Perry Mason" and "Murder, She Wrote" with my grandmother. so there was that. But then there was a case that - I don't know - being from Detroit, you might actually remember this. But there was a case in Detroit of a boy who had gone missing in the '90s, and he was never found.

MOSLEY: D'Wan Sims?

KILPATRICK: And - yeah, he - I remember his little cherubic cheeks, you know, and his little smile and his school picture being everywhere and the older folks talking about, I bet you his mom had something to do with it or - you know, everybody was, like, a body language expert. And her story wasn't adding up, and there was just a lot of talk about it. And as a kid, I just paid attention. I paid attention to the news. I paid attention when kids went missing. And I was really struck when, just before the pandemic, a grown man walked into a Detroit police station, and he said, I'm him. I'm this boy that went missing in the '90s.

MOSLEY: I remember this.

KILPATRICK: And I was like, holy smokes. Like, I was like, where has he been? What's going on? What's the story? And they took his DNA, and they discovered that this guy was full of crap. He was kind of a strange individual who came into a police station and had a story to tell. And I thought that was pretty funny, actually. I was like, this feels very much like the tone of Detroit. That sort of struck me as being an interesting tone for a show, where you never quite know what to expect. You never quite know if it's going to give you the Detroit tale that you imagined you'd get or if it would just kind of end in a belly laugh. So that was interesting to me. And it also - the optimist in me made me go, well, what if this boy, you know, hadn't met some gruesome fate? What if he was gone, and what if he had come back? And where would he have been, and what would that story look like? And so that - kind of spinning that tale around in my imagination is where it kind of gave me the germ for the case of this season.

MOSLEY: It's such a gripping way to tell this story. And for you to find humor in it - I mean, have you always been that way? Is that something that you've always - the way that you've looked at the world?

KILPATRICK: I think so. I mean, my father is - the only way to describe him is just a damn fool. I mean, he cannot take anything seriously. You know, they say comedy is tragedy plus time. He doesn't need the time. You know, it's just joke. Funeral - joke. Someone's hurt - joke. It's never too soon - joke. So he just really doesn't have the ability to take anything seriously. And I think my mom took everything really seriously and had a tremendous amount of depth, of feeling and thought and everything. And so I think making sense of the two of those personalities within myself - it's kind of been my lot. And I think making sense of comedy and depth is probably a hallmark of my work.

MOSLEY: Well, this show is named after you. And...


MOSLEY: ...In the show, Diarra is - she's quirky. She's definitely smart. But she's also frazzled and kind of holding it all together.


MOSLEY: I was thinking about what it means to name a series after you. I mean, we've seen Issa Rae do it many times. I think we know that the character in "Insecure" is Issa, is her, but it's also not her. Was there ever any concern for you about that? - naming a series after you.

KILPATRICK: There was a ton of concern. I kind of had to be pushed into it, to be honest. I think a lot of times stand-up comedians do it. There's this idea that they're sort of playing a fictionalized version of themselves. Me...

MOSLEY: Like Martin or something like that. Yeah.

KILPATRICK: Yeah. All the way from "I Love Lucy," I think comedians have done it. And for me, there was a little bit of - I wanted to keep that separation because I, like - went to NYU. I studied at Tisch School of the Arts. You know, I've done a lot of theater. I really wanted it to be clear that I could act, and I was playing a character. But then I had a lot of failed pilots, you know? And I - they all had - they - none of them had my name. I had - would develop something, and it wouldn't go. Or I made a pilot for Amazon, which we did get to shoot, but then it didn't go to series.

And so this time, there felt like an urgency inside of me of, like, I really want this to go. I really feel ready to share my ideas and my talent with a broader audience and for it to have some cultural impact. Like, I really did feel ready for that. And so I wanted to do something different. And my husband, who is also an EP on the show - you know, I was, like - I was naming the character, like, Jaya or Dara, like, almost Diarra, you know? I was like, I really don't want to do it. And he was like, you know, I think you should do it. And it just - it did - it felt right. It felt like it was, like, an announcement, almost. Like, "Diarra From Detroit" is ready to be seen.

MOSLEY: I want to get into the story. Diarra, as I mentioned, is a teacher going through a divorce who goes on this amazing date with this guy named Chris, and the two of them have this epic first date. But for the second date, he basically disappears, and she can't believe that he just ghosted her because they had a really intense connection. So Diarra starts on this journey to find out what happened, and it leads her to the case of this missing boy, Deonte, who disappeared from a mall in Detroit decades before. And Diarra even reached out to Vonda, Deonte's mother, for more information. And in the clip I'm about to play, Diarra and her friends, who she's now got wrapped up all in this case with her, go to her date Chris' apartment. And they find a box filled with clues that he - this guy might actually be the missing little boy who disappeared from the Detroit Mall back in the '90s. Let's listen.


KILPATRICK: (As Diarra Brickland) Confession - I was wired. I was up all night going over everything we recovered from Chris' apartment. He'd been gathering evidence, articles and a host of '90s artifacts that Deonte must have had when he went missing. It proved I was right. Do you smell that? It is the sweet, sweet smell of I told you so. Chris is Deonte 100% confirmed.

BRYAN TERRELL CLARK: (As Mr. Tea) Welcome to "CSI: Detroit." If I'd have known, I would have warned you.

CLAUDIA LOGAN: (As Moni) Do you even have fingerprints, DNA?

KILPATRICK: (As Diarra Brickland) I got a backpack, and it is a '90s time capsule, except it's a crime capsule. Boom - the Mary J. Blige tape that Vonda bought before Deonte went missing.

CLARK: (As Mr. Tea) Vonda is the mama. Apparently they went on some ghetto ride along. It's all very y'all n***** wild.

KILPATRICK: (As Diarra Brickland) The woman is an inspiration, and I'm already jumping on that Impala lead.

DOMINQUE PERRY: (As Aja) Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Diarra, booski (ph), friend, [expletive], no, OK? And what is this over here? What is you saying?

KILPATRICK: (As Diarra Brickland) Gloves. Nobody touch any of the evidence without gloves.

MOSLEY: That's Diarra Kilpatrick starring in the BET+ series "Diarra From Detroit," and she's in this scene with actors Claudia Logan, DomiNque Perry and Bryan Terrell Clark. I've heard you say that the structure of these kinds of mystery shows are in your bones because of the women that you grew up with in your life. Why do you think you're so drawn to murder mysteries and whodunit shows? Why do you think that they were so drawn to those shows?

KILPATRICK: I think it's fun, you know? I think it gets a little interactive 'cause you're trying to figure it out. You're talking to the television. That's one thing I loved about my grandmother was that, you know, she was a part of the cast...


KILPATRICK: ...You know? She was like - her favorite thing was like, heffa (ph), what are you doing? Like, nothing made her more mad than a woman on television who was about to do something...

MOSLEY: Dumb. Yeah.

KILPATRICK: ...Questionable - that was about to make a dumb, questionable decision. And so what I've had the opportunity to do is kind of place her voice inside the cast for the first time, you know, so when Diarra is doing things that are reckless and sort of naive or just downright dumb, a lot of times you have the voice of Moni or the voice of Aja, her friends, that are like heffa, no, what are you doing? And that has been really, really fun for me.

MOSLEY: Let's take a short break. If you're just joining us, my guest today is actress, writer and producer Diarra Kilpatrick. She's the star and creator of the BET+ original "Diarra From Detroit," an eight-part mystery series also starring Morris Chestnut and Phylicia Rashad. We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR, and today, we're talking to Diarra Kilpatrick, actress, writer, producer and creator of the new BET+ series "Diarra From Detroit." The show is a dark comedy about a public school teacher going through divorce who falls down a rabbit hole of a decades-old mystery after going on the hunt for a Tinder date who ghosted her. Like the name of the show, Diarra is from Detroit.

You have some legends in this show, including...


MOSLEY: ...Morris Chestnut, Phylicia Rashad and also a lot of Detroit and Midwestern natives. I read that you were looking for a very specific vibe in the auditions that felt authentically Detroit. What was it that you were looking for?

KILPATRICK: It's so funny. It's our - it's the voice. It's in the voice. I could be playing auditions on the computer and walk away from the computer to get a cup of tea or something, and the voice would - will drive me back, you know? We're not really doing the vocal fry thing in the Midwest. We're not really doing the pitching up thing in the Midwest. Detroit is a Southern town up north for me. And so it's that Southern - little bit of Southern in the voice. It's that bit of bass in the voice. Assuredness in the voice. And I could tell it immediately.

MOSLEY: Someone was asking me if I had the accent, and I said the news business has basically beaten it out of me. Do you feel like you...


MOSLEY: ...Have it?

KILPATRICK: You know, listen. I went to theater school, too, and they beat me up pretty good. When I first got there - it's so funny 'cause growing up in Detroit, my mother was a teacher, so I couldn't really come in the house talking about, I'm finna (ph) do this. I'm finna do that. And then, you know...

MOSLEY: Right.

KILPATRICK: ...That was kind of, like, how the neighborhood kids spoke, like - en den (ph) I was like, my mother would be like and, then, you know, we're going to say the entire word, the beginning and the end. So she was really kind of strict about that. So growing up, kids always said oh, Diarra talks proper. So then when I got to theater school, you know, I basically thought I was Dame Judi Dench. And they were like, ma'am, what is this accent that you have? Your vowels are all over the place, you know, you sound a hot mess.

And that was actually one of the things that I didn't love about - even though I did love being at Tisch and that training - was I didn't love the kind of judgment that I felt about my accent and being, you know, the only Black girl in studio. It was like, we got to fix that because as soon as you graduate, no one's asking you to speak the King's English. You know, as a dark-skinned, 20-something Black actress, they want your regional dialect. A lot of the times you're going out for prostitute number four. They don't need you to sound like you're doing a Shakespearean play. So that part of it was interesting to kind of lose it and then kind of learn to regain it...

MOSLEY: To regain it.

KILPATRICK: ...Because that's what the industry...


KILPATRICK: ...Was requiring of me. And I did wish that it had been framed that way for me in school. Like, there's nothing wrong with your accent. In fact, you're probably going to work more with your regional dialect than without it.

MOSLEY: There is a lightness and also a depth that is rarely given to stories about the city. And this series gives us a real sense of place. You really convey community and a sense of place that I've never seen about our hometown. Did you always know that you wanted to write a story centered in Detroit?

KILPATRICK: Yes. I - you know, I learned something every time a pilot didn't go. And I did write a pilot set in Detroit for Amazon called "The Climb." And I just loved shooting there. I love the voice, the - how poetic the people - there's just a lyricism to the way the people communicate. And so I knew that I wanted to write something set there, and that was sort of the thing that I had to offer, I think, as a writer, that would be really unique. But then I wrote a pilot for Showtime that was set in LA, and my favorite scenes to write were the ones where she was kind of having flashbacks talking to her girlfriends in Detroit. And, you know, Jordan Peele - he would always say, like, find the fun. You know, when you're sitting down to write, write the most fun thing, you know, you could think to write today.

It's already hard. Like, don't brutalize yourself. And so make it easy. And it is true that when, you know, I was writing, at 2 in the morning, a scene or something, that's like, you want it to be the most fun thing possible. So, yes, I always wanted to sort of share my version of Detroit with the world because I am clear on the fact - and I become more clear as I get older - that I'm really blessed, that, for me, the gems of Detroit have far outweighed some of the more challenging aspects of growing up there.

MOSLEY: And you say that...

KILPATRICK: Whatever...

MOSLEY: ...Because, I mean, the reputation is that it is a hard life. When people...

KILPATRICK: Absolutely.

MOSLEY: ...When you tell people you're from Detroit, there's always like, oh.

KILPATRICK: They're always like, ooh.

MOSLEY: Taken aback.



KILPATRICK: I always - I wait for the sound effect. Oh, yeah. I'm from Detroit. Oof, ooh. OK.

MOSLEY: Right.

KILPATRICK: Oh. How - are you OK? How you doing? I'm like, I'm good. And it's funny because it's not 'cause I grew up in the suburbs or anything, you know? I grew up in the city. When I was really young, you know, we didn't have a lot of money. My mom and I lived in Section 8. We lived in Calumet Townhomes right off the Lodge Freeway. You know, you get older, and you start looking at property, and you realize, oh, damn. Like, living directly off the freeway is not...

MOSLEY: Prime real estate.


MOSLEY: Right. It's not...

KILPATRICK: That is not prime real estate. So I grew up right in the center of that, and I don't know what it was, but I think probably my mom - I had a very idyllic childhood. I have a very pristine idea of what it was to grow up in that Section 8 housing community. And I think it was, in part, my imagination. It's not there now, but there used to be, right across from where I grew up, this big field. It was an empty field, and I would cut across that field to get to the corner store whenever, you know, my mother would bless me with a couple dollars or whatever to go get a ice cream or whatever.

And that field, in my imagination, in my mind, was honestly like Maria von Trapp, like "The Sound Of Music," like Austrian vistas and mountains. Like, the grass was so high. I would go in that field and pick flowers for my mother. I would sing and dance and get lost in that field. And it wasn't until I was much older that I was like, that was an empty lot. The grass was mad high because it should have been cut. Those were dandelions. They're not flowers. But I was always like, this is magic because I guess that's just the love that I felt, and that's just something about me.

MOSLEY: I feel like this is a hallmark of what we can actually see in this series and the other works that you have done because in this series, something that you do is humanize people we don't typically see in complex depictions, like, in the ways that make them funny and vulnerable and basically human beings. I'm thinking about the strippers and the gang members. There's actually a scene where this guy breaks into your house and holds you at gunpoint, and then you realize you know him, and then you all end up having a somewhat romantic relationship. So even in, like, the worst scenarios, there is, like, this humanity that you're showing through all of the characters. I assume that that was definitely very intentional.

KILPATRICK: Yeah, and just the truth - I mean, yes, it's heightened. But, you know, I've talked about this before. When I was growing up in Calumet, my mother got robbed one night. And she's looking at these two boys and she's like, oh, man, this is my friend's son who's robbing me. And she lets it happen 'cause she didn't know the other boy, and she didn't want him to freak out and be violent. They had a weapon. I can't remember if it was a knife or a gun. And I remember she came in and was like, my friend's son just robbed me (laughter), you know? And she went by there the next day, and she said, you know, your son robbed me. And by the end of it, he was taking her across the way to the - across the Service Drive, to the Jeffries, where the sort of tall projects were. And he was trying to help her find where he had dumped her bag...


KILPATRICK: ...So she didn't have to cancel all her cards and get a new library card and all that stuff. And they ended up kind of cool after that. Like, you know, they were kind of laughing, and she was like, you not going to do that. I'm going to be checking on you. You know, and there was a real humanity to that boy, which is why she didn't call the police or, you know, there wasn't even some real animosity between them after that. It was actually a bonding experience. And I was like, man, I hope he went on to be a doctor or something because she didn't rat on him. And kind of I hope that that changed the course of his life.

But I think the point is we all know people who have done questionable things or are products of systemic racism or their circumstances or whatever, and that doesn't mean that we write them off in our community. We still see them as individuals deserving of grace and forgiveness and all the things. And so I'm just hoping that they see themselves in more complexity as well on television so that they realize they're not just one thing either.

MOSLEY: Our guest today is Diarra Kilpatrick, starring creator of the BET+ series "Diarra From Detroit." We'll be right back. I'm Tonya Mosley. This is FRESH AIR.


GORILLAZ: (Singing) Detroit.

MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Tonya Mosley. And today we're talking to Diarra Kilpatrick, actress, writer and producer and creator of the new BET+ series "Diarra From Detroit." The show is a dark comedy about a public school teacher going through a divorce who finds herself investigating a decades-old mystery after going on the hunt for a Tinder date who ghosted her. In addition to her latest series, Diarra wrote, produced and starred in the ABC web series "American Koko," which is about a woman who investigates and solves sticky racial situations in a post-post-racial America as a member of the E.A.R. Agency - Everybody's A little bit Racist, for which she received a prime-time Emmy Award nomination. Kilpatrick also starred in three seasons of the HBO period drama series "Perry Mason."

Diarra, I was thinking about the timing of this series because we see so many of the things that are produced now are repackaging of old stories. I mean, it's a pretty popular way to get things made in Hollywood, in part because they're a sure bet. I'm just wondering, did you have any challenges getting a script like "Diarra In Detroit" greenlit from the studios once you were able to write it and put it together and pitch it?

KILPATRICK: You know, I should have, but I didn't. It was kind of like a perfect storm in that BET Studios was a new venture, they had something to prove. You know, I think people weren't sure about it. BET, you know, hasn't necessarily been synonymous with making premium content, so they had to sort of take some risks and take some big swings. And so it was kind of a perfect marriage, to be honest. When they started - Kenya Barris, who is someone who I had kind of bumped into around Black Hollywood (laughter) over the years.

MOSLEY: And he's an executive producer of this show, yes.

KILPATRICK: Yeah, he's an EP on the show. And, you know, we ran into each other once at the NAACP Awards, and then I ran into him at Sundance, at a Black party at Sundance. And he was like, you know - and he tried to hire me on - I think it was "Mixed-Ish." And I was not available. And so we had just kind of been circling each other, like, we'd love to work together in some way. And then when he came over to BET Studios, he was inviting writers to do overall deals there and to develop exclusively for them. And I had just had a baby. I wasn't exactly sure what my next move was going to be, and so I sort of jumped at the opportunity to develop there. And I knew I had this idea. I had sort of worked it - I had soft pitched it to him before, actually. And they were like, we love this idea, let's go. And it was just - it kind of came together really quickly after that.

MOSLEY: I want to talk to you a little bit about "American Koko." It's the ABC web series that you created, wrote and starred in. I know you said you've learned a lot from that process of writing that series. It's about a woman who investigates and solves sticky racial situations in a post-post-racial America as the member of the E.A.R. Agency, which stands for Everybody's a little bit Racist. I want to play a clip. It's the intro to the series that is narrated by actor Viola Davis. Let's listen.


VIOLA DAVIS: (As narrator) In post-post-racial America, problems of a distinctly racial nature are considered especially heinous. In Los Angeles, these sticky racial situations are handled by an elite team of problem solvers. Agent Baldwin Bledsoe, our resident genius and social scientist. Lucky Ling, our eternal optimist. Milo Gold, like Batman, his superpower is white privilege. Then there's Akosua Millard, code name Koko. Not only an employee, she was also once a client. She was cured of Type 1 angry Black woman syndrome, the kind inherited from residual racial trauma. Working for the Everyone's a little Racist agency isn't just a job for Koko, it's a mission. This is her story.

MOSLEY: (Laughter) That was the opening for the ABC web series "American Koko," which our guest Diarra Kilpatrick created, wrote and starred in. And the opening was voiced by Viola Davis, who was an executive producer on the show along with her husband, Julius Tennon. Is it true you only spent a few thousand dollars on the first version?

KILPATRICK: The first iteration, $3,000, my income tax return check. And it was interesting even to me that with just such a simple rubric, like, this really political work came out. It was very political. It was very much of the time. And then...

MOSLEY: Orient us of the time because it's post-Obama, but it's - or around Obama's presidency.

KILPATRICK: It was around Obama's presidency, the first version. I actually wrote this first season around the time of the Trayvon Martin verdict - of the George Zimmerman verdict, I should say, came out. And I was writing it. And I was one of those people that was, like, gobsmacked by the verdict. And everybody was like, what do you mean? This is America. Have you read your history books, you know? And it really - I was filled with a lot of grief for that boy, for his mother. I have a lot of nephews who I just adore.

And this came out. And again, it was a mix of feeling a lot of things but always wanting to keep it light, and honestly, just something that was producible. And that's the first time I said to Miles, who was my boyfriend at the time, like, let's produce this together and, you know, let's make it happen. And I felt really empowered through that process, and it really did change a lot for me. A lot of doors opened. It was one of those things of, like, when you're in your proper lane, the traffic is much clearer and doors are opening up with greater ease. And so that was what really got me into the writers' room the first time was that piece of work.

MOSLEY: You make fun of things that are stereotypes in this show, though, in a way that is just - it brings levity to it. So I'm thinking about the angry Black woman syndrome. And there is something to me so powerful to have this character acknowledge and embody what is also a stereotype that so many of us try to outrun, yeah.

KILPATRICK: Yeah, because it's a trap, man. It's a trap. It is a trap. I feel a lot of times that Black women are - they have made us afraid of our anger, wanting to stuff our anger because we've been reduced to it. But at the end of the day, anger is so beautiful and so powerful to me. Nothing changes unless someone gets angry. You know, obviously, you don't just want to aim a bunch of unwieldy anger all over the place. That's not going to be constructive either. But there is great information in your anger. There's great direction in your anger. And of course, there's great change that comes out of somebody being like, I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore, you know? I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired, you know? My name is Fannie Lou Hamer, and I want two seats, you know? Like, that is the thing that changes our world. And so I think that when Black women are afraid of it, it will siphon off some of your power and your intuition and your drive.

MOSLEY: OK. So I'm thinking about this moment we're in because, you know, Hollywood is still reeling from the writers strike. And there are so many projects that were put on hold or cancelled or just shelved. And you represent with this series, like, this, passing through of the ones that made it through. And there's a freshness and there's a light and there's a hunger that I hear in you. Were you impacted in any way by that writers strike, too, though, because it's still very much impacting the industry and people's ability to get work and get their work out there.

KILPATRICK: Yes. Of course, I think - we had to shut down. So we finished shooting over a year ago, and we were in editing when the writers strike happened, and we had to shut down and I was very afraid because there were shows that shut down and never came back after the writers strike. You know, it was just - it was a really scary time. And so I, of course, I'm from Detroit, you know, damn near everybody in my family has worked for the big three or - at some point. Like, I am a union girl. I was not going to go against my union. But there was some talk of, oh, it's kind of nebulous and, you know, you can still edit and, you know, so there was a little bit - it was a little bit nebulous that some people weren't editing. And some people, you hear rumblings that people...

MOSLEY: Still working a little bit. Yeah.

KILPATRICK: ...Maybe were, and then you're like, am I going to get my show killed because I'm following the rules? You know, there was a lot of that. And, you know, we talked about it and we were like, we want to stand with our union. And we walked away from the show, and there was a minute where it seemed like the studio was going to try to edit it without us, and that was really scary. So it turned out that that didn't happen, that we were able to come back after the strike but at a clip, at a condensed schedule - post schedule. So we worked, you know, I have to commend the team. Oh, my goodness. Our post-production team worked really hard and very quickly. And, you know, that affects our composer, for instance, you know, every aspect of the post-production had to happen really quickly.

And so - but we did it, you know, and we got it in. So - but yes, the strike definitely impacted us. But we're just blessed that on the other side of it, our studio really believed in the show and still put kind of the marketing dollars behind it. But all of that stuff could have been in jeopardy. But they did find the marketing dollars for us and didn't just kind of release us and let us kind of fend for ourselves out in the world.

MOSLEY: Let's take a short break. If you're just joining us, my guest today is actress, writer and producer Diarra Kilpatrick. She's the star and creator of the BET+ original "Diarra From Detroit," an eight-part mystery series also starring Morris Chestnut and Phylicia Rashad. We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR, and today, we're talking to Diarra Kilpatrick, actress, writer, producer and creator of the new BET+ plus series "Diarra From Detroit." The show is a dark comedy about a public school teacher going through divorce who falls down a rabbit hole of a decades-old mystery after going on the hunt for a Tinder date who ghosted her. Like the name of the show, Diarra is from Detroit.

One of your biggest cheerleaders is your mother, who passed away in 2019. I think I heard you say that a real sense of urgency actually happened in that moment when she passed away. It was just the urgency to tell stories that were important to you. And it came right at that moment when "Diarra In Detroit" (ph) was a real idea that you can move forward to. But can you talk more about that urgency, what it felt like, what you were saying to yourself with the realization that your mother was no longer in the world?

KILPATRICK: It felt like there was no greater time than now to live fearlessly. I remember feeling like her time on this Earth is up, but this is my time now. And, you know, when I look back at it, I want to say, I mean, it sounds so cliche, but, like, I really gave it all that I had. I didn't hold anything back. I wasn't harboring any fear because I think I was working a little bit at cross-purposes because I was trying to get a show on the air, but I think maybe deep down, I was a little bit afraid of it and afraid of what that meant...


KILPATRICK: ...For a whole paradigm shift 'cause it's just so unknown...


KILPATRICK: ...You know? And I think I just went inside myself and wanted to let go of any fear of flying. And that was really internal work. But yeah, I did feel that way. And I felt like the greatest honoring of her life was for me to live up to my potential 'cause she told me, you know, you're the love of my life, you know? And that was hard for me, actually, 'cause I felt like she had put so much into raising me that sometimes I felt like she didn't give enough to herself. And so, for me, it was like making sure I was giving that to myself and not robbing myself of any opportunity to fly anywhere. And so it was a deep time, and I know - to me, there is a clear before and after, you know, my mom left. It's just such a clear - there was Diarra almost, like - I mean, I was grown but it almost felt like not quite a woman yet. And then as soon as she went, I felt like, oh, I'm a woman now. She got wings. And I got, you know, my womanhood.

MOSLEY: I think you say, like, either she used to always or one time sat in the front role of a production that you were in wearing a fur coat. And I just thought, OK, that is so Detroit to have your mom in the front row wearing a fur coat. But the boldness of that, of wearing a fur coat and what it represents - it's something that you try to embody within yourself, that living big and bold.

KILPATRICK: Yeah, because I was - would definitely cower. Like, I would definitely be like, oh, my God, Mom, please. Why are you in this fur? Why are you so loud? And she did that the whole time. You know, if I did a play and I was grown-grown, she'd be right down front. We were in LA at that point, so there was no need for the fur. But I think it is a mark of a Detroiter to - when you said that, I was like, oh, yeah, that's the Detroiter - is just to be boldly and audaciously who we are. You know, it's like, we don't shy away from that. And so that's kind of what this season has been for me - is, like, growing into that because I can be a little more shy. And I'm kind of learning that the shy part, the low-key part, I think, is something that I acquired by moving through the world, that I should show up this way in order to be seen as, you know, the nice girl or the whatever, or, you know, whatever it is. Like, I feel like I had been socialized to be a little bit smaller. And I guess that's just women. That's just...

MOSLEY: In part, absolutely.

KILPATRICK: ...The female experience...

MOSLEY: Yep. That's true.

KILPATRICK: ...And the Black experience - is, like, we get socialized to shrink a little bit. But that's not the typical Detroiter. And so I feel like I'm kind of growing into that.

MOSLEY: Let's take a short break. If you're just joining us, my guest today is actress, writer and producer Diarra Kilpatrick. She's the star and creator of the BET+ original series "Diarra From Detroit," an eight-part mystery series also starring Morris Chestnut and Phylicia Rashad. We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


MOSLEY: This is FRESH AIR. And today we're talking to Diarra Kilpatrick, actress, writer, producer and creator of the new BET+ series "Diarra From Detroit." The show is a dark comedy about a public school teacher going through a divorce who falls into the story of a decades-old mystery after going on the hunt for a Tinder date who ghosted her. Like the name of the show, Diarra is from Detroit.

I want to ask you about something else with family. And it's your brother, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. He was convicted in 2013 on corruption charges. He served about seven years on a 28-year sentence and was granted clemency by President Trump in 2021. The two of you share the same father, Bernard, who was also in politics, serving many roles in Wayne County. He was the former chief of staff for Wayne County Executive Edward McNamara, who is a very well-known name in Detroit and in Michigan. Were you and your brother Kwame close growing up?

KILPATRICK: We were. So there is a big age difference between us. So by the time he went to FAM...

MOSLEY: Florida A&M University.

KILPATRICK: Yeah. I was 5 or so. So our relationship has always been a little bit brother-uncle, you know, and also - because he came back from school. And he was - by the time he was 26, he had two kids and was serving in the state House. So he's always been, like, grown-grown, you know? But my brother has always made me feel really, when I was growing up, kind of safe and protected. And my earliest memories of him are probably, like, us being at Cedar Point.

MOSLEY: Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio - just saying it for people who don't know.

KILPATRICK: Yes. And, you know, that age difference between us - you know, I'm 4. They're grown. And I was always afraid to get on everything. I was always afraid to get on all the rides or, you know, watch the same movies. So he would always kind of encourage me to get on the ride. That is kind of him in a nutshell. And when I was younger, you know, he would come see all my plays. And it was quite an education because I always say I'm from all of Detroit. You know, I talked a lot about growing up in Calumet, but also, my dad would come pick me up on a Saturday. And it wasn't uncommon for me to go, you know, campaigning for someone or some fancy party on a boat and - oh, the governor's there or whatever. So it was quite an education just about the breadth of Detroit and the breadth of where you could go.

MOSLEY: Yes, because the Kilpatricks are pretty legendary in the city of Detroit. When Kwame was running for mayor, I mean, he represented such hope and promise for Detroit.


MOSLEY: He really put Detroit on the map as this young hotshot mayor at a time when the city was really at the depths of its decline...


MOSLEY: ...Around that time. So Detroiters took it really hard when he fell.


MOSLEY: How did it impact you?

KILPATRICK: It was tough. I will say, you know, I think we were raised - like Kwame's mom, who I love as well, Carolyn, and my mom - I feel like they really did instill in us, like, a real mission to help the community, to help our community in whatever way we could. And so I really believed in everything that he wanted to do for the city. And I too felt really energized and really proud of him and of the - sort of some of the progress that they made. A lot of the things that are happening downtown, you know, kind of started during that administration. When - what it did was it really bonded me to other people, other - you know, a lot of Black people, but just a lot of people in general who have families that had someone in their family become incarcerated. It opened up my eyes.

I had no idea - let me tell you because my husband always makes fun of me. I am - I don't want to - I don't want to do anything that is even slightly against the rules (laughter). Like I'm not the kid that stole candy from the corner store. I'm not the kid who stole the lipstick - you know, I had those friends who would be, like, stealing stuff from Claire's, and I would be like, are you crazy? You know? I never expected to be behind the walls of a prison visiting anybody. Certainly not there, but I just never expected it. And it really opened my eyes to how many Black and brown people are behind those gates and how the families are impacted. It was brutal.

MOSLEY: Are you and your brother close?

KILPATRICK: It's - you know, now - he was away for a while. We - I certainly love him so much. And I think that we're sort of finding who each other are now, because I've - I'm such - I'm a woman now, and, you know, he is remarried, and he has two new babies and that takes a lot of his time. So we're all in the family group chat. He's super proud of me, but we aren't, like - we don't talk every day or anything like that. But I think that that was the real takeaway for me was how the families are impacted by the incarceration of oftentimes their patriarch, and how many kids are - and I touch on that a little bit in the show, when one of the characters, one of my students in the show - her mom is incarcerated. Because that's the thing that just stuck with me is making sure that we carry these children when they have this catastrophic event, like when one of their parents loses their freedom.

MOSLEY: Well, I heard that there's a mural and billboards all over Detroit for this series. Have you seen them?

KILPATRICK: Yes. I got a chance to go to Detroit with my husband and my baby and my sister and my oldest friend in the world, and we stood out there and took pictures. And it was a beautiful moment. My son, of course, was like - it was raining. He was over it. He was like, I don't care. And then he looked up and saw the billboard and he said, who put that there?


KILPATRICK: And, of course, I was trying to figure out how do I take a brick wall back on the plane with me? But it was a really beautiful moment, and I have to shout out Sydney James, who is a wonderful muralist in Detroit, who created it with her team. And it - you know, I just try to keep my head down and do my work. You know, I'm trying to listen for my assignment and just follow, you know, and be obedient to it. But there are those moments that kind of shake you, like, girl, you're doing it. You know? You're doing it. Your face is on this whole wall. That's crazy. And it was a really, really kind of touching, lovely moment.

MOSLEY: Diarra Kilpatrick, this was such a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you for this conversation.

KILPATRICK: Thank you.

MOSLEY: Actress, writer and producer Diarra Kilpatrick. She's the star and creator of the BET+ original series "Diarra From Detroit." On tomorrow's show, writer Salman Rushdie talks about the knife attack while he was on stage that doctors didn't expect him to survive. This was 33 years after Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, a religious ruling calling for Rushdie's death as punishment for his book, "The Satanic Verses." Rushdie's new book is called "Knife." I hope you can join us. To keep up with what's on the show and to get highlights of our interviews, follow us on Instagram at @nprfreshair.


MOSLEY: Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Meyers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Ann Marie Baldonado, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Therese Madden directed today's show. With Terry Gross, I'm Tonya Mosley.


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