Just before she got the call to audition for Harlem, actress Jerrie Johnson had surrendered everything to the universe as she manifested a series regular role. 

Then at 5 pm one evening, she received 12 pages of dialogue she had to learn by 11 am the next morning. She was a little concerned, but she didn’t have to be. 

“I read it and I was like this is a piece of cake,” Johnson told ESSENCE. “As a poet, as a writer, if the writing is not good, it’s harder to learn it. I feel myself autocorrecting. And what was on the page came so naturally. I had a friend come over, we read it a few times and it was golden.”

Johnson got the role of Tye in the new Prime Video series following a group of four friends in New York City. Tye is a queer woman who owns a tech company–an unusual feat given the lack of gender and racial diversity in tech spaces. Yet Tye is accomplished and unapologetically Black. 

“She’s this queer woman in tech but there’s also this hood n-gga about her,” Johnson explained. “I was like, ‘Oh, I feel this.’ It was exciting because it didn’t go into any type of cliche. This is what I’ve been wanting to get my hands on.”

With so many people drawing a distinction between Black people and the LGBTQ+ community, Johnson shared how important it is to see the type of woman Tye represents. 

“Black, queer women constantly have to navigate so many things,” Johnson said. “Sexism, racism, homophobia. If you want a broad perspective about something, go to a Black, queer woman. She’s constantly seeing everything from different angles and different lenses of oppression.”

The character also breaks the trope of the queer friend not having a solid sense of self.

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“Usually in Black friend groups I’ve seen on television, most of the time there’s not a queer character. But if there is a queer character, she’s trying to find her queerness,” Johnson said. “She can’t get right. Or queerness is associated with an aloof creativity.”

While Johnson can deeply identify with that experience, she knows it’s not the only one. Tye might be the only character to identify as queer, but the writers weren’t shy about exploring same-sex attraction and experiences with other women in the ensemble as well. Johnson said doing so represents not only real life but speaks to the talent in the writer’s room. 

“You can tell that the brains working behind this ship were wanting to be as authentic and specific as possible, which I think is going to make [Harlem] resonate.”

Johnson added that while the show is relatable and a good ass time, it’s also a read. 

“Sometimes it’ll hold that mirror up real close,” she said. “There are these deeply personal and intimate moments. Each of the girls have these moments where you’re like ‘Damn, the system is f-cked.’ Oh my God this happened to me.’ The combination of that being the stew, makes it a healing experience to watch.”

Harlem is streaming on Prime Video now.

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