If you needed any further proof that Black women are not a monolith, look no further, the ladies of Amazon Prime Video’s Harlem have arrived!
Black women come in all shapes and sizes, much like the friend groups that are a reflection of who they are at the core. For years, shows like Girlfriends and Living Single have paved the way, making room for spaces that allow Black women to just be, and now Harlem is here to do the same.
Harlem showcases the lives of four ladies who are on a mission to level up to the best versions of themselves while tackling dating, career journeys, and more on the streets of what’s considered the Mecca of Black culture in America–Harlem, New York City.
As viewers welcomed Tye (Jerrie Johnson), Quinn (Grace Byers), Angie (Shoniqua Shandai), and Camille (Meagan Good) into their homes through the new series, Shadow and Act sat down with the cast and crew (including the aforementioned ladies, as well as Tyler Lepley and creator Tracy Y. Oliver) to discuss the importance of accurate representation, friendships and more!
The 'Girls Trip' writer is back this time to share her insight on friendship through the lens of Black women in Harlem, a place that is pivotal to not just Black culture, but her own personal journey.
“It was a deliberate choice for me, because when I was thinking about the best time of my life in my 20s, it was in Harlem,” Oliver said, recalling those late nights and early mornings in the Harlem streets as a guiding force for the show’s location. “We were dating and breaking up and all of these different things were happening, but that time still elicits a sense of hope and magic. When I think about it, it just felt like a period where everything was really possible.”
For Oliver, it was important for her to go against the tired narrative that lacked Black and brown women navigating New York and speak to her own personal experiences in the city.
“I would look at shows like Sex And The City or Friends and I felt like Black and brown New York was gentrified out of those shows. They just were not there,” she explained. “I wanted to tell the story in the way that I remember it and to also give a spotlight to Harlem because at the time everyone would shoot in New York, but never Harlem and so I just thought, ‘here’s my opportunity to write a love letter and feature the people and places in Harlem that I loved so much while I was there.’”
There’s power in seeing reflections of your life accurately portrayed in the content that a person consumes which is exactly what 'Harlem' aims to do.
“I think it’s a healing experience that we don’t usually get,” said Jerrie Johnson, who portrays Tye, the creator of a successful, queer dating app. “I feel like Black women are very protective of themselves and each other, and rightfully so because we are the ones who protect each other. With Harlem, I feel like Black women and Black people get a chance to breathe because we see these true, authentic expressions of ourselves and each other. I think the specificity there will make it so that everybody can relate to these characters.”
On the other hand, one can also learn a lot from each character.
Photo: Amazon Prime Video
“I think the thing that I learned the most that I really enjoy is that none of us have it together,” said Meagan Good, who plays Camille, the young anthropology professor at Columbia trying to figure out her own love life while at the same time teaching the ins and outs of dating norms of various cultures. “When you have sisterhood, you don’t have to go through it alone and you can really support and depend on each other and pour into each other and this is what I hope people get when they see the show. I hope that they are empowered by the honesty of each one of these characters and empowered by the things that they’re experiencing that are real-life things.”
Adult friendships can either make or break you. Gone are the days of the blind leading the blind, and instead are the days where the folks in your corner hold you accountable, no matter what it makes you feel like.
“As I was navigating Quinn, I was also navigating my personal life,” said Grace Byers who plays Quinn, the hopeless romantic and trust fund fashion designer trying to keep both her love life and her business afloat. “It was just the idea of giving myself permission. I feel like so often, I am the strong friend, I’m the one that’s there for everybody and making sure that I’m giving advice and giving support, which I think is something that Quinn aims to do too.”
Byers further explains how this character taught her to give herself grace in the process of trying to figure life out.
“I don’t quite give myself the grace and the compassion that I give my friends and so I was kind of navigating that through Quinn, realizing that she’s so hard on herself, but she provides a safe space for other people,” she continued. “So I think this past year of shooting has really taught me that there’s room and there’s space for me as well.”
We all have that one friend whose approach to life inspires us to be our own biggest cheerleaders, and in 'Harlem,' that’s Angie.
Angie is the confident, filter-free singer, portrayed by Shoniqua Shandai, who is just taking things one day at a time and figuring life out from the comfort of her bestie’s couch.
“What I learned the most from Angie is self-acceptance and self-love,” Shandia explained. “Angie adores herself, no matter what the circumstance around her may think. She loves herself so much that she is Béyonce, even if she’s on her friend’s couch.”
Along with friendships and navigating the career journey, 'Harlem' brings it all full circle with a focus on relationships through characters Camille and Ian (Tyler Lepley)
As the one who essentially got away, Lepley shares what he learned about relationships through his on-screen romance (or lack thereof) with Camille.
“In order to make someone else happy, you’ve got to make yourself happy,” he shared. “I feel like we see a lot of that in that initial conflict that Ian and Camille go through, especially from Camille’s point of view.”
While the characters toy with fulfilling each other in ways that they’ve always wanted to, Lepley says that there’s an important lesson in learning to fulfill yourself first throughout the series.
“I want people to take away the fact that you don’t have to settle,” he continued. “There’s so much talk about settling and I don’t feel like we were put on this Earth to settle. I feel like this is a very unique experience that we live as humans in this space and time.”
Season 1 of Harlem is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.
Watch the interviews below: