How Living Single Made Being Young & Female In Brooklyn A Thing

Photo: Deborah Feingold/Corbis/Getty Images.
Wednesday marked 25 years since Living Single premiered and introduced viewers to something that had been paid very little attention on television up until that point: an honest take on sex and dating from four Black women with varying perspectives. Since the entire series was made available to stream on Hulu, there has been a renewed chatter about how groundbreaking this sitcom was.
It helped catapult Queen Latifah from rap royalty to Hollywood power player thanks to her leading role as magazine editor Khadija James. Her cousin/roommate Sinclair (Kim Coles) was air-headed but golden-hearted, completely shattering the idea of unshakable Black women. Their third roommate, Regine (Kim Fields), flipped fixed notions about Black women’s relationship to class as a bougie girl who was raised in the projects. Maxine Shaw (Erika Alexander) was a lawyer and the first Black feminist I identified with in pop culture. It has been widely noted that Living Single set the tone for shows like Friends (which plopped an all-white cast in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village) and later Girls (which situated its all-white cast in Williamsburg). While these comparisons focus on the premise of twentysomethings fostering friendships and dating, the setting is just as important.
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Living Single was particularly convincing at romanticizing Brooklyn as the site for young adults to grow into full adults because Khadija, Max, Regine and Sinclair were all relatively successful in their fields. Regine turned her love of fashion into a costuming career on television sets. Khadija was an editor-in-chief before she was 30. Sinclair pursued an acting career. There was never a shortage of men interested in dating them — even Sinclair, who was committed to the handyman upstairs for most of the series — and they were often surrounded by other young professionals. They weren’t exactly where they wanted to be, but they were headed in the right directions — something we couldn’t say for the protagonists in Girls or Broad City. Set in the ‘90s, it was a different time, but damn it looked good.
In Girls, Hannah Horvath (Lena Dunham) dreamt of becoming a writer. Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) gets a job after college that takes her all the way to Japan and back again. Jessa (Jemima Kirke) didn’t know what she wanted to do. And Marnie (Allison Williams) had to be humbled as she kept doing things wrong. Brooklyn was a playground of self-discovery for four white women who had the space and resources to figure their shit out. 2 Broke Girls puts two white waitresses dreaming of owning their own cupcake business in Williamsburg. On Broad City, Ilana (Ilana Glazer) and Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) are perpetual fuck ups all over New York City, but they’re also based in Brooklyn. This idea that women become the people they are meant to be in Brooklyn is a contemporary novelty in television. And Living Single was one of the first shows to do it.
That Living Single was a Black show is also important. It's interesting that shows about quintessential female friendship were whitewashed following this '90s classic, because Brooklyn itself has also become representative of the white millennial. The Brooklyn that the Huxtable family from The Cosby Show knew; the one Spike Lee loves so dearly; and the one where four friends glowed up with one another is slowly becoming else thanks to gentrification. Respecting the impact of Living Single is just one of the ways to pay homage to the history of one of the Blackest boroughs.
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