How Diarra Kilpatrick's New Show 'The Climb' Is Challenging Stereotypes About Black Womanhood
With networks, streaming services, and even social media vying to be every binge-watcher's go-to hub, it can be hard to find a unique story that rises above the rest. But telling original stories is no new feat for writer and actor Diarra Kilpatrick, whose new Amazon pilot The Climb — which premiered Nov. 10 as a part of Amazon's fall pilot season — does just that. With roughly two decades of acting experience under her belt, it's clear that even though the 34-year-old creator is not yet a household name, she's definitely one to watch.
After graduating from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, Kilpatrick headed to Hollywood in search of roles that spoke to her soul. But according to her, many roles for women of color lacked depth and played into stereotypical tropes — "the mammy, the jezebel or the tragic mulatto." Determined not to give up, Kilpatrick decided to carve out her own path and create characters she could relate to.
That led to the creation of her first web series, American Koko, a comedy produced by Viola Davis and her husband Julius Tennon about a black woman who investigates sticky racial situations in a post-racial America. "In the theater, I was always used to seeing a black woman going on her own journey rather than just facilitating someone else's like what's shown on TV sometimes," Kilpatrick tells Bustle. "So with American Koko, I was determined to deconstruct stereotypes like the 'angry black woman.' It’s a common archetype you always see in entertainment and it was fun to turn it on its head."
Much like American Koko, The Climb isn't pulling any punches when it comes to showcasing the plight of a modern, young black woman. Peppered with plenty of pop-culture references, The Climb is set in Detroit, following an office assistant who seeks "an extraordinary life through internet fame, with her best friend always in tow," per the synopsis.
"One of my favorite scenes in The Climb is when someone tells [the lead character] Nia she’s got 'white girl problems,' because it really gives us the opportunity to explore all of the struggles of black womanhood," Kilpatrick says. "It’s not always about the 'I’m a slave,' or 'I work three jobs and life is terrible' narrative. [In The Climb] Nia just wants to be fulfilled, she wants to be happy. She wants a bite out of the new American Dream and to live her best life."
The Climb is groundbreaking in its depiction of its black female protagonist, and that's something Kilpatrick is proud of. "It’s been great working with Amazon and I feel really lucky to have pitched this show to two women on their team," Kilpatrick says. "I think it’s super important to have women in positions like this. They’ve been super collaborative, supportive, and diligent about getting things done."
While The Climb will unapologetically touch on plenty of racial and social issues black women face, Kilpatrick stresses that women of all races will definitely be able to identify with the characters' struggles.
"One of the first things that gave me an idea for this show was a shirt I saw that said 'dress like Olivia, slay like Bey, own like Oprah, push like Hillary, Delegate like Sheryl, and age like JLo,' and I was just like, 'damn, that’s a lot," Kilpatrick says. "I feel like we as women have such high expectations for ourselves and each other. And while there’s a lot of women out there slaying and going for their dreams, I hope that this show allows someone else on that climb to see themselves and know that they're not alone."
Kilpatrick admires TV shows that are two things: entertaining and authentic. And with The Climb staying true to this philosophy and debunking stereotypes about black women left and right, we'd say Kilpatrick has absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to her own shows hitting this mark.