Much is said about the lack of representation of Black stories in film & television, particularly in the ’90s. Television shows like “Sister, Sister”, “Moesha”, “Family Matters”, “Martin”, and “Living Single” showed the plethora of comedies and dramas with the bond of family and characters who embodied independence. Telling these stories through the lens of predominantly Black storytellers and actors is a bountiful canvas.
Tasha Yvette Henderson, played by Essence Uhura Atkins, is the eldest child and only female in the immediate family on “Smart Guy”, a comedy about a “ten-year-old whiz kid” named TJ, a genius who entered high school with his older siblings, Yvette and Marcus. “Smart Guy” ran from 1997-1999.
A poignant plot point was Yvette, Marcus, and TJ’s mother was deceased. Floyd, their father, did his best to provide for his three children. He was loving, revered, and learning. Yvette was motherly without taking the place of her mother. Floyd relied on her. It was telling that Yvette was the oldest. She honored the responsibility to her family without being burdened. She grieved when she realized that her mother was not going to be at her high school graduation when her mother said that she would be there.
In Season 2, Episode 12, Yvette asks for her own bathroom. An oasis amidst the male energy of the house. She knew what she wanted. An advocate we love to see. When she was applying to college, her heart set on Princeton University, her fears were ripe. She explored her interests including sports, theater, and dancing. She edited and wrote for her school newspaper and was a baby feminist. She experienced the pitfalls of peer pressure and beauty standards.
Essence’s performance showed her balance of comedic timing and pure emotion to her character. Essence, through Yvette, represented who Black girls are and can be. Essence understood her assignment as seen in this clip below where Yvette tries to show her manager her biases in an effort to make change.
I saw myself in Yvette Henderson. A responsible and intelligent young Black woman upholding her values and vision. She had quirky friends. She owned her dreams and nightmares by talking with her family, getting out of her head. Her determination entered the finish line.
Recommended episodes of “Smart Guy” with Yvette as the center of the storyline:
Season 2 Episode 12
Season 3 Episodes 9, 10, 12, 15, 21 22