'Hollywood Remixed': William Jackson Harper on Being Black and Nerdy

Jim Spellman/Getty Images

In the third episode of The Hollywood Reporter's new podcast, hosts Rebecca Ford and Rebecca Sun chat with the 'Good Place' star about all things blerd.

Welcome to the third episode of Hollywood Remixed, The Hollywood Reporter's podcast about culture change and inclusion in entertainment.

Each week, hosts Rebecca Sun (senior reporter) and Rebecca Ford (awards editor) explore a type of character or story that traditionally has been underrepresented or misrepresented in pop culture, and interview a special guest whose work exemplifies a new breakthrough in representation. Each episode is dedicated to a single theme, revisiting groundbreaking classics and introducing listeners to hidden gems, in order to better understand how film and television in the past have shaped progress in the present.

In episode three, "Did I Do That? Revenge of the (Black) Nerd," debuting Nov. 20, the Rebeccas delve into the world of blerds, dominated by iconic, unforgettable characters including Steve Urkel, Carlton Banks and Dwayne Wayne.

Pop culture has traditionally not been kind to nerds in general — they're usually the butt of the joke, considered romantically undesirable and portrayed as social misfits. And black nerds (both onscreen and in real life) often contend with an additional misperception: the insinuation or accusation that, by dint of their interests, hobbies or academic achievements, they are "acting white" and not being true to their race (see: Andre's fears about his son Junior in the Black-ish pilot).

William Jackson Harper, who portrays TV's reigning blerd, ethics professor Chidi Anagonye, on NBC's critically acclaimed comedy The Good Place, joins the conversation to discuss what it's like to live in the intersection of black and nerdy. "There's something about being a somewhat nerdy dude that somehow translates into 'wanting to be white,' and I don't think that's healthy," he tells the Rebeccas. "That was the thing that would hurt me more than anything else, because it was like, 'There is one club I belong to, where my membership cannot be questioned,' and when someone in the same club takes shots at it, it's really hurtful."

On a lighter note, Harper also discusses Chidi's stereotype-breaking representation of being a nerd who is not only the romantic lead but has a six-pack as well.

Hear it all now on Hollywood Remixed, and subscribe on your preferred podcasting platform. In the coming weeks, the Rebeccas will welcome Hustlers director Lorene Scafaria, who will discuss stripper movies through the female gaze, and The L Word: Generation Q showrunner Marja-Lewis Ryan, who will chat about the evolution of lesbian characters onscreen. And check out our first two episodes of Hollywood Remixed, featuring Last Christmas star Henry Golding on Asian leading men and This Is Us and Waves star Sterling K. Brown on black fatherhood.