Diarra Kilpatrick Keeps It Pushing

Diarra Kilpatrick Keeps It Pushing

By Imani Mixon
Mar 21, 2024

There is a game that Detroiters play upon first meeting, tossing our respective qualifiers back and forth to track the commonalities and differences among us. Are you an eastsider or a westsider? What neighborhood are you from? Where did you go to elementary, middle and most importantly high school? To outsiders, it’s an immature exchange.; for Detroiters, it’s an absolutely necessary barometer. What could come off as a divisive conversation is actually a bid for connection. It’s a way for one Detroiter to spot another Detroiter in the wild and place them within the appropriate context. Fortunately, for me, a writer from Detroit, that same line of questioning lends itself well to journalistic fact-checking. By all those accounts, Diarra Kilpatrick is a bonafide Detroiter.

“I’m from all of Detroit,” the producer-writer-actor proudly says as she glimmers from our video call screen in golden-yet-understated glam.

Shirt: Amiri, Blazer: Ganni, Shoes: GCDS

Kilpatrick spent her formative years in Detroit’s Calumet Townhomes with her mother Elise, who she describes as an enthusiastic patron of the arts. She recalls talented, emerging artists coming over for visits. She remembers circuiting the Detroit Institute of the Arts, the Detroit Public Library’s main branch, The Children’s Museum and Wayne State University’s Old Main building. She coupled her Bates Academy education with participation in Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, an outstanding after-school ensemble brimming with promising young talent. The combination of these two programs is a common thread for many successful actors from the city. Kilpatrick attended high school at Detroit Country Day before going on to study at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Kilpatrick fondly reminisces about cozying up with her grandma Bertha as she watched The Young and the Restless, Matlock, Perry Mason and Columbo. Those mystery shows became the inspiration for her show Diarra From Detroit, which premieres today on BET+.

“I feel like everybody's grandma and mom were watching those shows. I just don't think we've seen it with a Black woman driving that narrative,” says Kilpatrick.

Diarra from Detroit is a homegirl whodunnit. We follow the lead character, Diarra Brickland, portrayed by Kilpatrick herself, as she traverses through a major heartbreak and uncovers a major breakthrough in her hometown of Detroit. When the almost-divorcée hits the dating scene, she happens upon a charming man named Chris (Shannon Wallace). They spend an unforgettable night together — then Chris practically falls off the face of the Earth, or at least the tri-county map. Not only has Diarra been unintentionally ghosted by her dream guy; he turns out to be a pivotal element of local folklore.

“I’m a complex Black woman born of complex Black women and I don’t always see the full range of our humor, quirkiness, sexuality, intelligence and goofiness on television,” Kilpatrick tells PAPER.

Jacket: 16Arlington, Boots: Flor de Maria

With appearances from Detroit rapper Kash Doll and legendary love interest Morris Chestnut, Diarra From Detroit is not only a star-studded show, it’s an irresistible comedic mystery. It’s a far cry from the restrictive representations of Detroit that often make it to television. Kilpatrick takes the responsibility of authentically portraying Detroit seriously.

“I feel like it’s my duty to collect my inheritance. When my grandmother passed on, the only thing I wanted [from her] was her VHS tapes. She didn’t have wealth to pass on to me — what she passed on was the experience of sitting up under her while she watched her stories. I don’t have a trust fund, I have the stories of my city, and I have the stories of the people who raised me and I feel like that’s how I’ll get my inheritance,” Kilpatrick says.

The Kenya Barris-produced eight-episode series is just the beginning of an exclusive script-to-series deal that Kilpatrick secured with BET Studios shortly after its launch in 2021. Even as Kilpatrick’s star continues to rise, she cautions that her entertainment career is not one of overnight success. It took years of stops and starts, empty promises and close calls to get her here.

“It’s like giving birth to anything else, like a baby,” Kilpatrick says. “When I first got pregnant, I was like, how am I ever going to give birth? Then I realized that because the baby is so effing big, it has to get out. So you're like, I don't even care about how bad this hurts. I need this head out. That's the same exact thing with writing. The idea just gets big and fussy.”

Kilpatrick’s journey serves a reminder to all creatives who are on the precipice of creating something magnificent that is still in its infancy: Keep pushing.

This article is a sponsored collaboration between BET+and PAPER.

Photography: Kevin Amato
Lighting direction: Sebastian Johnson
Styling: Lindsay Flores
Makeup: Tasha Reiko Brown
Hair: Shelby Swain
Production design: Bette Adams, MHS Artists

Photo assistant: Jai Wilson
Lighting assistant: Lance Williams
Digitech: DJ Dohar
Retouching: Matty So
Styling assistant: Sona Guekguezian
Set dressing: Kylea Meredith, Nicky Buzzerio
Production assistant: Kelly Cole, Julia Ling Kelleher

Videography: autre fish

Editor-in-chief: Justin Moran
Managing editor: Matt Wille
Production lead: Sammy Case
Publisher: Brian Calle
Story: Imani Mixon