The mystique, style, and history of Harlem, New York have long inspired and enthralled people from across the globe. Its people, its resilience, and Black Excellence have remained a steady engine of American culture for over 100 years.
That “engine” has inspired countless media representations, each of which contains but slivers of the whole. The urge to see ourselves in media prompts us to comparison, which is indeed the thief of joy.
However, Amazon Prime’s “Harlem” (Ever After), starring Meagan Good, Jerrie Johnson, Grace Byers, Shoniqua Shandai and featuring Whoopi Goldberg, is a female-led story of modern Black women living and working in Harlem.
It depicts ultra-modern ideals of love, sex, and what it means to be successful with some of New York’s most famous locales playing the backdrop.
Recently, the stars and creators of the show attended a red carpet and screening of the new Tracy Oliver (“Girls Trip”) project and Ricardo Hazell was there.
“I play Shawn, I think everybody is in for a big surprise. He is kind of a bad boy on paper but he’s a great guy that every woman deserves to date,” said Robert Ri’chard (who we first interviewed way back for Light It Up) when asked of his role. “He sort of wears his heart on his sleeve and goes the extra mile for the ladies. I’m very enthusiastic about playing a guy who goes all the way for the ladies.”
Bevy Smith, socialite, author, pop culture commentator, and now actress! We asked Bevy how this came about.
“I literally auditioned three days before the global pandemic shut down the entire country. After Page Six TV got canceled, I decided that I didn’t want to pursue another pop culture show,” explained Smith. “I wanted to put my energy towards acting. I started going out on auditions and I got this one and went on it even though the pandemic was looming.”
“Then, spring of this year, I got a call from Amazon telling me they wanted me to come in and do the role of Aunt Tammy. And I was elated. I was supposed to come in for three lines, but they let me come back three more times and let me adlib with Tyler. It was awesome.
Philadelphia native Tyler Lapley has been steadily making a name for himself such as in “Baggage Claim” and “The Haves and the Have Nots.” We asked about his role.
“It came about through hard work. We had a long audition process and I ended up coming out on top. I play Ian Walker in the show Harlem, and when you are first introduced to him, he is a very gifted, talented, and creative chef.”
“He’s a well-studied chef, very passionate and driven about his work and his life, and when you’re introduced to him, he’s in conflict between the two. He’s like all of us. He’s a hardworking man that’s in the process of trying to figure out who he is and what he stands for.”
Meagan Good plays TK, an assistant professor at Columbia University, whose once-promising career becomes as tenuous as her love life.
Meagan told reporters why the uniqueness of Harlem provides the perfect setting for the show.
“Being able to shoot in Harlem, there’s no place in the world like Harlem. You can literally walk out the door and see someone in a great fedora and a great outfit at 6 am going to walk their dog. It’s a different energy and a different magic here,” she gushed.
“That makes me really proud because I don’t think we could have shot the show anywhere else. And, on top of that, just showing these characters. They’re not monolithic, they’re constantly pulling back layers and you begin to see yourself in every one of these characters.”
Shoniqua Shandai stars as the career confused Angie, a would-be pop star who now sleeps on her best friend’s couch. Exuding sensual confidence, Angie is as sexually free as they come. Shoniqua, on the other hand, had a few caveats before she was cast.
“That was Tracy Oliver. I got this audition notification and it said ‘nudity,’ and I do not do that. So, I immediately called my agent like ‘What you even sendin’ this to me for?’ Because I don’t be showing nothing for free, or for pay,” she said.
“He emailed me back in five minutes after he got a response from Tracy like ‘It’s okay. She doesn’t have to compromise her morals. We’ll just see her’.”
“And I never had an experience where a writer was willing to alter the identity of her character before I even had an audition! She ain’t even know me. I felt like ‘This is someone who wants women to feel safe, protected and doesn’t want you to compromise yourself.’ That’s someone who I had to work for immediately. The character pops off the page. She is my sister, she’s my cousin, she is my grandma, she is outspoken. Always think about Jennifer Lewis when I think about her. She’s dynamic and fierce. A party and she does not say no to herself.”