Sheryl Lee Ralph Discusses Moesha’s Legacy And Shares Take On The Show Not Winning Emmys Or Other Major Awards

Moesha (Brandy) and Dee (Sheryl Lee Ralph) on Moesha
(Image credit: UPN)

Before becoming Abbott Elementary’s beloved veteran educator Barbara Howard, Sheryl Lee Ralph practically raised a whole generation as high school administrator Dee Mitchell on the classic '90s sitcom Moesha. Ralph was essentially the decade's equivalent of Phylicia Rashad’s Claire Huxtable. And, even today, the family comedy remains a beloved part of pop culture. As Abbott‘s success continues, the Emmy winner is discussing the classic show's legacy, and she also has an honest take on it not winning Emmys or other major awards during its run.

Sheryl Lee Ralph is one of the few performers to star in more than one successful TV show during her career, and this particular production was important. The Mitchells projected an image of a wholesome Black family during Moesha's six seasons on UPN. And that was during a time at which Hollywood didn't believing majority Black casts could make money (and, in many ways, that remains the case today). Ralph got nostalgic with EW and, during the wide-ranging chat, she expressed just how cognizant she is of the spot he and her colleagues hold within the cultural zeitgeist. In doing so, she also talked about the program's lack of big awards love:

All of us were playing these different images of Black people from different walks of life. Me as a principal of Crenshaw High who had a wholesome family unit living and working out their problems together for the whole world to see. … We didn’t win an Image award. We didn’t get nominated for an Emmy, but sometimes that’s not what you do the good work for.

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Dee and Frank Mitchell were the ideal parents for the show's eponymous character and in a way, to millions of children (during the first five seasons). The notion of a principal and an entrepreneur raising children in Crenshaw was the antithesis of the media’s portrayal of LA at the time. It’s hard to believe this angle didn’t translate to her or the classic sitcom receiving any awards love, especially from the NAACP Image Awards. The UPN family comedy was nominated for multiple Image Awards with only two wins for co-stars Brandy and Countess Vaughn. This honestly isn't surprising, though, given the lack of Emmy Award nominations for fellow Black sitcoms of the era like Living Single and Martin. (The latter received the spotlight at the Primetime Emmy Awards this year.)

Sheryl Lee Ralph also spoke about encountering Moesha fans, who tell her she “raised them” through her role as the Mitchell matriarch. The Tony-nominated actress (via Dee Mitchell) was indeed a mother, who parented with sternness and grace, which some Black youths may not have had had growing up. The Dreamgirls alum also admitted that the beloved sitcom provided her with  a level of stability in her career that she hadn't experienced up to that point. That is, before the success of Abbott Elementary. Luckily, the Hollywood staple has become a mother figure for a new generation as Mrs. Howard, which culminated in her memorable first-ever Emmy win.

What's also great is that there are others now following in her footsteps in producing nuanced work. Her Abbott boss and co-star Quinta Brunson and other Black comedy actresses taking over Hollywood at the moment are carrying the torch. And, in addition to Moesha, she showed through her sitcom New Attitude and her memorable  role as Etienne Toussaint-Bouvier on the classic sitcom Designing Women that Black women were capable of holding space in TV comedy. I'm glad the veteran actress put so much care into her work and that she wasn't phased by being passed up for awards years ago.

You can relive Sheryl Lee Ralph’s time as Dee Mitchell by streaming Moesha using a Paramount+ subscription. And don't forget to watch new episodes Abbott Elementary, which air on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET and stream the next day for Hulu subscribers. Also, check out the 2024 TV schedule to see what other Black-led or majority-Black sitcoms are premiering this season.

Adreon Patterson
News Writer

A boy from Greenwood, South Carolina. CinemaBlend Contributor. An animation enthusiast (anime, US and international films, television). Freelance writer, designer and artist. Lover of music (US and international).