Tracy Oliver, Meagan Good and Grace Byers bring “Harlem” to life • EBONY
Located in today’s Harlem, Girls’ trip scribe Tracy Oliver’s new comedy series Harlem is an ode to the humanity of black women. The series follows four black women in their thirties who have been thieves since they were students at NYU. Camille (Meagan Good) is an anthropologist with a PhD. who teaches sex, love and relationships at Columbia University. However, his aspirations for a permanent position and to find his right man continue to elude him.
Quinn (Grace Byers) is a fashion designer whose boutique and romantic life are constantly on the verge of collapse, much to the contempt of her wealthy mother (portrayed by A different world legend Jasmine Guy). Although her finances are strained, Quinn opens her house to her best friend Angie (Shoniqua Shandai) when she has nowhere to turn.
No-nonsense and daring, aspiring singer Angie never quite recovered from the loss of her recording contract a few years ago. Desperate for a new start, she reluctantly takes a choir role in Jordan Peele’s musical version Get out.
Rounding out the quartet is Tye (Jerrie Johnson), an entrepreneur who created the mega-popular dating app Q for the black LGBTQ + community. Although Tye seems to have found out what other people are looking for when it comes to love, she hasn’t quite figured out what she wants for herself.
Before the Prime Video series began, EBONY spoke to Oliver and the female cast members, as well as Tyler Lepley, who plays Camille’s ex, about Harlem and the many faces of black women.
“My experiences in Harlem really shaped [the show]”Olivier explained.” I remember it was such a culturally rich place and so much fun and lots of drunken night walks in the streets, getting on the train and going for brunch, and also chasing dreams. C was really magical to me when I was there. When I was watching TV back then there was Girls and Big city, and that was it. I was like, ‘I love these shows and enjoy them, but I don’t see my experience and who I’m portrayed onscreen.’ I always decided to write what is missing or write what I want to see. I wrote it before Girls’ trip came out of. So it was a different landscape for him, and he didn’t find a home at the time.
Once Harlem finally got the green light, Oliver knew she had to find the perfect cast to make the series a success. “Casting is something that I’m always very handy with,” she explained. “I have found that the white frames interpret the characters differently from a black designer. What I mean by that is sometimes the undertones of skin tone are lost, or there’s a tendency to prefer biracial actors or actors with lighter skin or skinny actors, and I do. have been around long enough now that I have seen the bias. So I’m still on the ground, and I’m still here because I want to protect women. I know I am deeply rooted in black women and I know what we want to see. I know we want to see a variety of skin tones. We want to see different types of bodies. We don’t want to look at really perfect people. We want to see a specter, and we want it to look real. I think you don’t necessarily get that mix up without being deliberate about it and telling people like you can’t have four fair-skinned people on a show.
For Good, who has been in Hollywood for decades, finding out who Camille was in the script was like a breath of fresh air. “I’ve seen a lot of different things and a lot of good shows, and I see myself in some of them,” she said. “But this is the first time I’ve been like, ‘Oh, I know her. I understand her. A lot of that is exactly me. I’m very quirky and goofy, and nerdy. And as an actress, I didn’t have the chance to show this side of myself, and I didn’t know what might come out of it – and I was excited to explore that. It was really fun living and breathing Camille It allowed me to fall back in love with myself in a whole different way.
Like Good, Johnson had never seen anything like it Harlem before, which made her fall in love with the role of Tye even more. “I hadn’t read a script that was so genuinely black, certainly not for TV. The last time I read an authentically black script was when I read For girls of color, and I was like, ‘oh that’s raw.’ This is what I felt for Harlem when I read it, and the handwriting was good. I immediately knew who Tye was in my mind.
Writing for Tye, Oliver says that she and Johnson worked together to make sure the character was as authentic as possible. “There are so many nuances and peculiarities about being a queer woman of color dating someone that I had to hire queer women of color to help train me.” First Wives Club creator explained. “And also to write specific scenes and give ideas because I’m not that person who is so arrogant to think that all black women have the same experiences and that I can write and speak for each character. writing for me was Camille because she is the one who most closely resembles my personality. Tye was the most difficult just because I needed help nailing him. I would also lean on Jerrie to help me out. better understand how to create this character, but it was definitely a collaboration.
Like Good, Byers was able to infuse some elements of herself into Quinn. Having the iconic Jasmine Guy portraying her mother also contributed to Byers’ experience. “It was a dream come true working with Jasmine Guy,” said Byers. “She’s so generous, generous and wonderful, just a great person to work with. And we had a lot of fun. We talked about the Caribbean culture. I’m from the Cayman Islands, but we’re pretty much in the same area, Jamaica and the Caymans. Tracy said, “Well your mom is Jamaican but what do you want your dad to be? I was like, ‘Can he be Caymanian?’ I am proud to say that I am the first American Cayman to play an American Cayman on screen. This kind of performance is really important to me, and I hope it will help other young Caribbean people, women of color, black girls to grow up and say, “I can do that too.”
While the roles of Camille, Quinn and Tye are more reserved, Angie is bold and fearless. The way she uses her voice is something we can all aspire to. “Angie does so many things that constantly shock me, including her sex life,” Shandai said with a laugh. “But honestly, it’s Angie’s commitment to seeing herself exactly as she wants to see herself. That’s what’s so shocking because it’s a world that tells black women that if you’re not an asset to me if you don’t entertain me, if you aren’t useful to me then you have no value. And Angie is so committed to her identity that she is this fabulous human being, full of vivacity and She’s still determined to be herself. I think being someone with curves, dark dark skin, using her voice is so empowering.
Although Harlem is a female-centric series, Oliver also included a smart, thoughtful, and emotionally intelligent man in Camille’s ex Ian, played by P-Valley’s Tyler Leply. “There are definitely differences between Diamond and Ian,” Leply explained. “I think one of their similarities is their strength, their ability to protect the people around them, either physically or emotionally. But Ian is going to leave everything he knows to be strong and go chase that passion. He’s going to get up by his bootstrap to do the right thing, but he’s going to come back. He cares what his community members think of him gentrifying the place by bringing this piece of Paris back to Harlem. So, again, this is probably the basis I started with in terms of building this character. “
When Ian returns to Camille’s life, they’ve been separated for five years. However, Lepley and Good’s chemistry as an ex-couple is palpable. “One thing I love about Meagan is that she’s first and foremost an artist,” Lepley explained. “She is a hard worker, just like me. I like to run lines until we can feel it and flesh it out. So we often ran lines. We would line up for dinner or have a drink, we would come a bit because we are one and the same. We are similar energies. So that chemistry is there in real life, which I think helps the dynamics of seeing us on screen.
As Camille, Tye, Quinn and Angie navigate friends, love life and careers in Harlem, they are allowed to be imperfect. Additionally, the show does not reward women for adjusting or compromising their true desires to put others first. Instead, it reminds black women to choose themselves and that any perceived imperfection they may have will not deter them from being in charge of their destiny.
Harlem debuts December 3 on Prime Video