“Why is everything always about men? What about our dreams? What about what we want?” – Camille Parks
The moment visitors set foot inside the Harlem Ever After pop-up at New York’s Harlem Parish for the Amazon Original Prime Video series Harlem, all were greeted by a sense of community. Four locally-based Black female artists were commissioned to illustrate the beauty of life around the way: Tiffany B. Chanel, Marthalicia Matarrita, Marissa Molina, and Maria “TOOFLY” Castillo. The latter earned a seal of approval from the neighborhood icon Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day on the blue carpet ahead of the pilot premiering. Together with the Harlem Business Alliance, garments curated by Kimberly Goldson were spread — Settepani and the Harlem Chocolate Factory blended bites — and local entrepreneurs celebrated NYC heritage.
The purpose of the evening was bigger than 10 star-studded episodes of heartfelt laughs. It brought local women business owners’ gifts to a program which likened them to the 4 women offering viewers unfiltered representation. A relatable plot of college best friends finding their footing is brought to life by Meagan Good (as Camille), Jerrie Johnson (as Tye), Grace Byers (as Quinn), and Shoniqua Shandai (as Angie). The vibrant effort is written by Tracy Oliver (2017’s Girl Trip) and is executive produced beside Amy Poehler, Mimi Valdés, and Pharrell Williams, among others. The series balances the brilliance and consequences of women who elect to forge their own path in cutthroat New York.
Moderator and author Bevy Smith attended the event to help supporters unpack the visual nuances of Harlem‘s aspiring musician, ascending designer, LGBTQ+ dating app founder, and leading anthropology professor at Columbia University. “This woman has limitless ambition. She keeps giving us things that create such a great feeling for Black women. She lets us know that we exist. We deserve to be seen. And look at her, Honey! Brains and beauty,” announced Smith upon bringing Oliver to the #HarlemEverAfter panel stage.
The Knockturnal got to sit in on the NYC discussion between the Harlem creator and starring cast. We learned about the actresses’ obstacles navigating their on-screen characters and their cherished experiences, too. These are a few takeaways from the leading women and their hope for the show’s future.
Tracy Oliver on Harlem
“When I decided to do a show titled Harlem, it was because I loved the city. I wrote this script pre-Girls Trip coming out. At the time, my team told me, ‘We loved the script. It is well-written. I think there is a show here.’ Still, the networks were like, ‘I think it is too niche.’
And then Girls Trip comes out and makes 150 million dollars. [Laughs] It was starring four Black women. That was when I could point to something and say, ‘We are not niche. We are mainstream. We are worthy. You do not have to be a Black woman to watch and enjoy them on TV. We have watched white women our whole lives.'”
Grace Byers on inclusivity
“When we try to herald one show about people of color and then try to leave others behind, what we are doing is a disservice to women. What we are saying is that there can only be one show where there are four different experiences… and that is all the experiences we can have as Black women. We do not need to be reduced to that.
There is so much joy, jubilance, and reverence in all of these stories. We have to tell [them]. I feel like I am with [Tracy Oliver]. The more stories we can have out there about women of color and Black women [the better]. We can celebrate each other. We are so much more multi-dimensional than you will ever, ever, ever know.”
Jerrie Johnson on Tye
“I don’t feel pressure. This is Tye’s experience. It is a specific experience. [Sometimes] when the first Black person [of a particular demographic] gets on TV — we are like, ‘Oh, my God! This is not all Black peoples’ experience.’ And that is okay. For queer people now, it is also like, ‘Oh, this is not everybody’s experience.’
When you watch a show, you are not looking for every [character] to represent you. Something unique about Tye — not only does she not exist on television — she also does not exist in the world. What are the statistics on a queer woman of color as the CEO of a tech company? So, the conversation should be, ‘How are we giving more access to Black people in tech? Cyberspace is the eighth continent.'”
Meagan Good on evolution
“As a child [actress], you sort of struggle to transition from child to adult. So, when I did transition from a child to an adult, I kind of got pigeonholed. I was the sexy girl, the love interest, [etc.]
It was fun for a few years. Then you start getting to a point like, ‘Okay, now I am ready for what’s next.’ I got stuck there for a while. People didn’t feel I was capable of doing other things. About three years ago, I was praying, saying, ‘Lord, I really want to do some comedy. I want to show a side of myself that I haven’t been able to show.’
When I read the script, instantly, I saw so much of myself in Camille. Furthermore, I thought a lot of times when I do watch other shows — I did not quite see my friend group. And when I read this [script], it was like, ‘Oh, my God! This is me.'”
Shoniqua Shandai on Angie
“I have been asked to play her in my real life. Girls come up to you like, ‘My spirit animal is Shoniqua.’ They want you to immediately give you what they think [Angie] should be. They see the big hair. They see the dark skin.
They ask you to perform, and they don’t really see you as a human being. We have seen the trope. We have seen her be an asset in supporting roles in other films. She may just come in as a one-liner. So, I really wanted to show the heart of her. I recognize that woman that they mock so much.
She is my cousin. She is my sister. There are parts of me that relate to her. That is an incredible testament to Tracy. She gave this woman dreams. She allowed her to be desired. Beyond that, she allowed this woman to have an identity of her own.”