Diarra Kilpatrick doesn’t fuck around in ‘Diarra From Detroit’

We may not know much here at Metro Times, but one thing we know for certain is that Detroit is always gonna root for Detroit. So when we saw the teaser for Diarra From Detroit, a comedic mystery series on BET+ written by a Detroiter, we knew we had to chat it up with the show’s creator.

Diarra Kilpatrick is behind the new series, and not only did she write and executive produce it, she stars in as the main character, Diarra. She’s a teacher going through a divorce who thinks her Tinder date ghosted her after they had sex, not because he just wanted to hit it and quit it, but because he’s gone missing. So she decided to do some sleuthing and solve his disappearance herself.

“A schoolteacher in Detroit gets some really good ‘D’ and it turns her into an amateur detective, and it’s a wild ride,” Kilpatrick describes the show over our Zoom call as we both laugh. If you thought her last name sounded familiar, yes, she is the half-sister of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

“There’s a ton of subtext,” she adds about Diarra’s journey on the show. “On the surface, the character thinks that she really does need an explanation. But one of the things we talked about in the writers’ room was that it’s easier to solve a mystery than it is to face your feelings, to go through a divorce, to stare down your grief… That’s what she’s trying to do is look away from the pain of her life into something else and it just so happens that the something else is very dangerous and a little crazy.”

Diarra From Detroit is set in the city and includes cameos by Detroit rappers Kash Doll and Icewear Vezzo. It debuted on BET+ on March 21. The eight-episode show even got a dedicated mural painted by Sydney G. James and Ijania Cortez on the side of Corktown’s Detroit Barber Co. on Michigan Avenue. It shows Kilpatrick in a fur coat hanging out the window of a car, mirroring promo images for the show.

Kash Doll appears in an episode as a character named “Maisha” who Kilpatrick says was written with the rapper in mind. She also recalls Kash Doll giving a concert in the hair and makeup trailer.

“I don’t know how it happened, but her music came on and she gave us a mini concert and the whole trailer was rocking,” she says. “She is really sweet, just a Detroit girl through and through. She knew her lines and she was ready to go… I’m a fan, so I’m glad that I got to meet her and now she’s lil sis.”

Like most Detroiters, Kilpatrick says she wanted to show how dope the city of Detroit is, even if it has its problems. Kilpatrick is from Detroit originally but now lives between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, California.

“Diarra, the character, was much like a metaphor for the city in that, in a way, she was caught between the old and new versions of herself,” Kilpatrick says. “She’s coming out of this marriage and she’s going through a trauma. She’s going through a loss. And anytime you walk through the labyrinth of grief you come out on the other side different… And so we really wanted to lean into her as a metaphor for the city of Detroit itself and finding beauty in where she is in the mess, in the potential.”

She says that while the narrative of Detroit these days is often that of a comeback story with a bustling downtown and high profile events like the NFL Draft, Detroiters are what have always made the city special.

“Detroit’s been a vibe. Even in the days when downtown maybe wasn’t as thriving and there weren’t as many wine bars and all the cool stuff that we can now enjoy,” she says. “There was still a spirit to the people and the beauty to the culture that was blooming through the cracks in the concrete. That’s the Detroit that I grew up in and I saw the beauty in it then.”

Certain characters on the show are “composites” of people in Kilpatrick’s real life, like Aja who she says is loosely based on one of her close friends. (She laughs while noting that actor Dominique Perry, who plays Aja, has since become cool with her friend the character was based off.) But the characters also represent the spirit of people like the librarian at the Detroit Public Library who helped foster Kilpatrick’s interest in books when she was a kid.

“Those are the people that loved me and taught me about art, who affirmed me at places like Bates Academy and the Charles H. Wright [Museum of African American History],” Kilpatrick says. “The children’s librarian at the main branch, Kelly, I can see her face right now. She always greeted me with a smile and knew exactly who I was and wanted to show me some new books to check out. That is the Detroit that I knew and that’s the Detroit that I feel like needs to be represented as well…. The people are gems and so those are the portraits that I tried to paint in the show.”

Portraying Detroit can be complicated though. Yes, Detroiters are amazing but the city has had its share of ups and downs, financial crises, challenges with crime, and a supposed dwindling population. So how do you uplift the spirit of a city full of good people while acknowledging its hardness? It’s similar to the complexity of portraying Black women on screen. While Kilpatrick says she isn’t necessarily fighting against the “strong Black woman” trope in Diarra From Detroit, she wants to convey the duality.

click to enlarge In Diarra From Detroit, Diarra Kilpatrick plays woman who suspects foul play when her Tinder date ghosts her. - Courtesy of BET

Courtesy of BET

In Diarra From Detroit, Diarra Kilpatrick plays woman who suspects foul play when her Tinder date ghosts her.

“Sometimes Black women are strong, not because we’re stronger than anybody else, but because we’ve had to be,” she says. “Sometimes the guys in the neighborhood do come off kind of hood. To me, that’s the truth of it. I don’t want to deny the truth of it. The issue is that there’s more to the story than that. I’m also more concerned with the why. Why do people present this way? Why is she presenting as strong, because we know she’s a human being and if you cut through, there’s something softer inside and I do think that’s a mark of the Detroiter. Can it be an aggressive city? Absolutely. Do you have to have a thick skin? Absolutely.”

She continues, “I put it in the first couple minutes of the pilot, my name autocorrects to ‘diarrhea.’ I went to a Black middle school. Have I been called ‘diarrhea’ before? Absolutely. So of course I have a thick skin. But I think what is the mark of Detroiters, a lot of the time, is at the center of us is this soft, gooey teddy bear.”

While she had all this in mind while writing the show, the self-professed Black nerd really just wanted to create a quirky Nancy Drew-esque series that centers Black characters.

“People keep saying it’s so original, but I think we have seen mystery shows before [and] we’ve seen mystery shows mashed up with comedy before,” she says. “But I don’t think we’ve seen them with a Black woman in the driver’s seat. I don’t think we’ve seen them with a tough setting like Detroit… and all those things kind of blended together to make this unique tone and story.”

The first season of Diarra From Detroit is available on BET+ and Kilpatrick teases that she’s hoping for a second season in the future.

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