Now that Abbott Elementary is a certified hit, everyone wants access to Quinta Brunson. It makes sense. She seemingly came out of nowhere and showed up with this colossal success that everyone can agree on. Of course, that isn’t the case, Quinta studied at Second City, got her start in stand-up, became known as the Buzzfeed Meme Girl, wrote a book, wrote and worked on other projects and had pilots that didn’t get picked up. Vulture has a great interview with Quinta discussing her roots and the what the success of Abbott Elementary means to her. What really came across was how focused Quinta is on her goals for the show. Not necessarily plot-lines, but who got hired, how the characters are portrayed and that everything stays rooted in Philadelphia and a Black voice. Even though she knew exactly what she wanted, Quinta didn’t realize it would take off as quickly as it did.
On the show’s popularity: I’m shocked. Sitcoms in the past, you watch them slowly build up an audience, so I wasn’t prepared for this.
On working with Larry Wilmore on her first pilot, Quinta & Jermaine: I came to that project super-green. My understanding of television structure completely came from Larry. If I didn’t work with him, I wouldn’t have been able to create Abbott.
On working on A Black Lady Sketch Show: I didn’t realize how rare it would be to be on a show with that many Black women. It did something to my brain where I was like, I’ll never not work without a good amount of Black people on set again.
On making a show for all ages: It’s TV for everyone. Part of my goal was TV that could bring a 14-year-old and a 98-year-old together to watch it. I’m hearing that about moms and grandmothers and kids, and it warms my heart.
On whether she felt pressure to make a show for white audiences: I simply refuse to entertain it. That’s just not the way I make things. And if that’s what I was asked to make, I just wouldn’t have made it.
On people complaining about the principal, Ava Coleman: Janelle (James) is just doing her character so damn well that, you know, people are getting mad at her! I chuckle about it. It’s a sign of success to be so good at the role that people are like, Oh my God, I can’t stand her. It’s really cool to have a controversial character on shows right now. I’m putting her in the same category as Shiv Roy.
On insisting on certain actors: I believe it’s part of the fabric of a sitcom to introduce you to new people. What helps make a show successful is when you have people you can fall in love with, actors people have never seen before
I’d seen the criticism for Janelle James portrayal of Principal Ava online. When the show premiered, a (male) administrator tweeted that Ava was an offense to all principals because she was incompetent. I can’t find the tweet now because there are too many tweets about how amazing Principal Ava is to dig through. Again, as someone with first-hand knowledge of the public school system – there are incompetent principals. Not all are, but we’ve had enough productions about how the principal saved the school. Let Janelle have some fun. And Quinta’s right, Janelle is so good and playing that character and keeping her just shy of a caricature. People getting upset by her are telling on themselves. Speaking of Janelle, she was one of the actors Quinta insisted on casting. She’s also does stand-up and Quinta really wanted more people to know about her. As is Zack Fox who plays Quinta’s rapper boyfriend on the show. I love that when Quinta got her shot, she used it to bring others up with her.
Although I remember Quinta in the He Got Money meme, my first real exposure to her was on A Black Lady Sketch Show, which I love. Knowing that Quinta worked with people like Robin Thede and Larry Wilmore, whom the article described as having “created, produced, or consulted on nearly every major Black TV show (and The Office) over the past 30 years,” it makes sense that Abbott is so tight. She had a vision, she stayed true to what she wanted it to be, and she’s done the work. I couldn’t be happier for her success, expected or not. What’s even more impressive than Quinta’s meteoric rise is how generous she is to those around her.
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