Alisa Gyse is a bit of a hero to me. She was Kinu Owens on the 90’s television series, A Different World. In eight episodes between 1990 and 1993, Gyse was the Japanese-African American love interest of Dwayne Wayne. As a Korean-African American, seeing someone of Afro-Asian ethnicity on TV was amazing. She was the first half-black and half-Asian character I had ever seen. It was thrilling to see someone similar to myself portrayed in such a popular vehicle.
|A Different World, Episode: “Everything Must Change” (1990)|
Kinu’s blend of Asian and black features and identity pervaded her presence on the show. It went beyond her physical characteristics and made its way into the way she dressed, talked, and even cooked. She had a Japanese name, spoke the Japanese language, and prepared Japanese meals. Yet, she was still an African American character on an African American show. I could relate.
In 1990, Gyse backed up Sammy Cahn ― legendary lyricist, songwriter, and musician ― in a live performance piece. In an interview promoting the show, Gyse noted that she had been to Japan three times. She said, “When I was going to Japan, I wondered what my relatives would think of me.” “I’m half Japanese and half black, and the Japanese can be a very purist society. I wondered if they’d be old and traditional. They were the most wonderful, hospitable people. I got closer to them in a shorter amount of time than to some of my relatives I’ve known for years.”
Gyse also acknowledged her luck in earning her first acting role in A Different World. “They were looking for someone who is black and Japanese!” she said.
Of her experience in Cahn’s show, Gyse said, “I think Americans are ready and willing to be entertained by any race. Here I am, the only black person in the Sammy Cahn show, singing songs that are not from my heritage, but I love the songs, and I’m sure people enjoy my performance, and it has nothing to do with my being black or Japanese – or purple!
If you’d like to see clips of Gyse as Kinu on “A Different World”, check out these links.
Whitley vs. Kinu (Part 1): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUAwIpFFu6w
Whitley vs. Kinu (Part 2): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbQGyyoKxFc