RIP Ja’Net DuBois, the First Grown-Ass Woman Gen Xers Fell in Love With
As Willona Woods, DuBois became the glue of ‘Good Times,’ her confidence setting the tone for everyone around her
As a lifelong (and aging) Good Times fan, I’ll be first to admit that growing up has given me added perspective on that classic ’70s sitcom. At six years old, I crushed hard on Janet Jackson, only five years older than me, when she debuted as Penny Woods. When I watched reruns as a teenager, the beauty and sass that Bern Nadette Stanis delivered as Thelma Evans had me wishing I’d been older in those days of bell-bottom hip-huggers. But only as an adult did I realize how hard I slept on the heart and soul of the classic show, the glue who held the sitcom together for six seasons: Florida Evans’ bestie, upstairs neighbor Willona Woods — portrayed by Ja’Net DuBois.
Ms. DuBois passed away in her sleep on Monday at her home in Glendale, California, surrounded by family. She was 74.
How many representations of black women even existed on the Big Three television networks from Good Times’ first episode in 1974 to its 1980 finale? Outside of the fiftysomething Aunt Esther on Sanford and Son, waitress Shirley Wilson on What’s Happening!! or the middle-aged neighbors on The Jeffersons (Helen Willis and Mrs. Louise Jefferson herself), there weren’t any. Ja’Net DuBois infused Willona Woods with the everyday aspirations of a high-spirited African American woman living her best life, even in the economically challenged Chicago Cabrini-Green Homes.
And she did it with style. Everyone salivating over Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth Carter’s clothing picks for last year’s ’70s-set Dolemite Is My Name should take a look at the YouTube reel of Willona Woods’ entrances from every episode of Good Times. Suede patchwork shirts, crocheted knit caps, silk headwraps, African-print dresses, and plenty of scarves, berets, and necklaces made her fabulosity complete: Willona was on. On top of the dignity that Ja’Net DuBois brought to a sitcom that wasn’t always immune to stereotypes, she never failed to rock a look, proving every…