New York City is the kind of place that creates memories you won’t soon forget. But there’s always been something particularly special about Harlem, the neighborhood in Upper Manhattan that has played home to the likes of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and Maya Angelou. And yet, despite its unique charm, few producers have ventured to center the historically Black community as a backdrop for series television. This year that changed with not one but two streaming series set out to amplify the beauty that is this culturally diverse neighborhood.
The latest—Harlem, from Girls Trip creator Tracy Oliver—premiered last week on Amazon Prime Video and brings laughs, relatable characters, and a story of four Black girlfriends as different as the city itself.
“There’s so much thought that went into the character development, but I knew I definitely wanted to do something where everybody had a clear, distinct point of view on things,” Oliver tells Glamour about the series’ main characters, Camille (Meagan Good), Quinn (Grace Byers), Tye (Jerrie Johnson), and Angie (Shoniqua Shandai).
With Tye, a queer app developer, Oliver says she tapped into the lived experiences of friends and the talent in her writers room to develop a character she believes has been missing in popular ensemble shows. What came from their stories is a fully developed persona and an opportunity to tell a bigger story. Camille, who Oliver admits is most like her, grapples with embracing the new versus holding on to the old in both her romantic and professional dealings. Quinn, a Caribbean American boutique owner, embraces a similar struggle as she tries to carve out a successful space for herself independent of the financial cushion her immigrant parents provide. Angie, a former singer and the wild card of the group, once had fame but now must confront a disappointing reality that’s seen her go from a lavish townhouse to sleeping on Quinn’s pink velvet couch.
And while Harlem remains a “Black mecca” for Black city dwellers, its composition has gradually changed over the last several years. Gentrification has pushed a number of families and businesses out, dramatically changing the neighborhood’s landscape. This tug-of-war between wanting more and staying true to one’s roots lays the foundation for much of Tye in the first season, while simultaneously highlighting an increasingly frustrating reality for those who live in the neighborhood.