The latest Tracey Oliver series, Harlem, was released last Friday and immediately became an instant hit, with many viewers taking to social media to declare the project as “a love letter to Black women” and an “ode to Black womanhood.” The ten-episode, half-hour series follows four thriving thirty-something Black women in Harlem, NY as they navigate friendships, relationships, careers, and finding themselves. While the series is meant to be a comedic, fictional tale of four very different women with very different personalities, the situations these characters face are far from foreign as every Black woman can see themselves in one or more of these personalities.
The series stars Meagan Good as Camille, the awkward assistant professor at Columbia University who’s vying for a tenured position and another shot with her ex, Ian (played by Tyler Lepley), Jerrie Johnson as Tye, the financially stable, successful founder of a queer dating app who brings realness and rawness to the friend group, Grace Byers as Quinn, the high maintenance fashion designer who struggles to keep her fashion line afloat and struggles even harder with finding a man, and newcomer Shoniqua Shandai as Angela, the loud and brash member of the group who offers the one-liners that we can’t get enough of.
With this premise and these character tropes, at first glance, Harlem might seem like it’s following the blueprint of some of our favorite Black women-led series – think Girlfriends, Living Single, and Insecure – but regardless of whatever similarities you think this show might have with the aforementioned, as Meagan Good told us, Harlem is unlike any other and is a must-see because “we need to see ourselves and we need to feel empowered.”
She continued, “I think that when we see ourselves, we suddenly not just become empowered, we fall in love with ourselves more. We see our worth more. We see what we can accomplish. Things that we couldn’t have even dreamed or thought.”
She then turned to her castmate, Johnson, and referenced her character, Tye, explaining, “[With] Tye being in tech and owning her own company. Now somebody sees that and is like, ‘yeah I can do that.’ Anything is possible and not only possible but probable. We just have to go out and get it.”
Johnson agreed with her costar, telling me, “it’s 2021 and it’s a truthful reflection of what is and what has always been. It’s ancestral. I feel like it’s going to be a timeless piece. But it also reflects our real experiences. The writer’s real experiences. Tracey’s real experiences. It’s so nuanced. It’s so complex. It’s not cookie-cutter. It’s not stereotypical. It’s a true reflection of Black womanhood that I don’t think I’ve been able to see yet. And I think in this turn of where we’re going, not only must we create stories of things we’ve never seen and honest stories, but also stories of things that we want to see. The things that don’t exist yet. Create that. And I think that’s what’s really amazing about what Tracey and the writers did with this show.”
And Johnson’s is right, we haven’t seen Black womanhood celebrated quite like this before. A celebration of individuality, leadership, and empowerment as each of the characters in the series show up completely and authentically as themselves. Navigating the ups and downs of their own lives with grace and class. And the best part is that they all do it in their own unique styles.
“I feel like I’m starting to dress more like Tye,” Johnson said of her well-dressed character. “I find myself wearing more of the boots and the hats and the longer fashions and things like that.” And lucky for Johnson, Tye’s fashion sense is definitely next level as she somehow finds a way to pull off a business suit, hat and boots into one trendy look.
“For me, I’m actually very different than Camille in terms of how to dress,” Good chimed in. “I’m a very casual person. Being from LA, it’s like it’s just going be some stretch pants, some sweat pants, anything that makes me feel sexy and empowered as a woman but simplistic and like I didn’t really try. But with Camille, I can honestly say that I was still trying to figure out, like put my finger on exactly who she was. And it wasn’t until I got into the wardrobe that I was like ‘Oh I get it’. It just clicked. I totally get who she is. And not because she’s existed before but because of the way Deirdre put together everything. It’s so specific and unique to each character, that you understand who they are just by how they present and how they express themselves in their clothing.”
She continued, “the only thing I think I share with Camille is [that] I’m a big boot head. Ankle boots are like, for me, everything. I love that Camille will wear an ankle boot with something that you would put a strappy sandal or you would put a pump on with but she’ll pair it a certain kind of way.”
Catch Meagan Good and Jerrie Johnson along with the rest of the cast in Harlem, streaming on Amazon Prime now.