Tracy Oliver is most known for bringing the 2017 smash comedy Girls Trip starring Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith and Regina King. It's the role that made Tiffany Haddish a star and the first film released penned by a Black woman to gross over $100 million at the box office. Since then, Oliver hasn't slowed down.
Now, she's bringing us another story of Black womanhood and friendship with the Prime Video comedy Harlem (out now). The show follows four women at different stages of life, love and career as they hold strong to their bonds to get them through life. Oliver says she'll always write stories of friendship due to how important her relationships with her girlfriends are in her own life.
PopCulture.com spoke with Oliver on the semblance of the city of Harlem, telling stories about relationships, and more. She also gives an update on the status of Girls Trip 2. Scroll through to read our full Q&A with Oliver. (It's also available in video form at the top of this article.)
PC: So I loved the show, and one of the things that really captured my attention was that you decided to set the show in Harlem. Why choose Harlem for the setting?
TO: I chose it because when I used to live there, it just was so much fun. Honestly. I wish I had a deeper answer for that, but it was a lot of fun. We would stay out till like three, four in the morning and have chicken and waffles, and just be on the train drunk and doing a lot of crazy stuff. And it was just a lot of culture that you're just organically thrust in. And then you have so much rich history with Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell and the Harlem Renaissance. And I was just like, this is just like the dopest setting for a show because there's so much woven into it already.
And that's something that you touch on, at least in the premiere episode is the ever-changing gentrification of cities like Harlem and other major urban cities. Why did you feel like it was necessary to incorporate that into the show, especially woven into the themes of... Four Black women at a certain age group who are navigating life, love, and career?
So when I lived in Harlem, it was a lot Blacker and a lot different. And then when I came back, I was like, "Oh wow." Like it's rapidly gentrifying. And the neighborhood was just a lot different. And when we were in the writer's room, there was this ad, this real estate. I think it was a Compass ad that went viral because it was like, "Welcome to New Harlem." And it was like two White men on a stoop. And I was like, "Oh wow." So, that became like this thing. And it went viral because people were just talking about like, Harlem is officially being stripped of its culture. And so, it just felt like if you're doing a show set there, to not acknowledge that didn't feel authentic to me and didn't feel right to just pretend like the community's not changing on some level.
And there's been a major reprise of series focusing on Black women in a certain age group and their friendships and their love lives. What do you feel makes audiences yearn for this specific format?
I think that it's escapist and feel good. And I think it's necessary because I think we put sometimes, and by we, I mean Hollywood puts a premium on Black pain and Black struggle and those types of stories. And I think a lot of audiences just want to grab a glass of wine and watch a show and laugh and be entertained with their friends. There's a lot of bonding and comradery that can happen with shows like this and I kind of write for that audience. I've always been interested in making people laugh, making people cry, but joyful tears, not like pain and struggle tears. But just because you feel good around your friends, and at the end of the day, Harlem's a love story between women. And those stories are just always important because I think men and women can come and go out of our lives, but our friends are the glue that always holds us together. And I think it's a valuable message, and yeah, I think it's just really necessary.
And you've become synonymous with showing the dynamics of amazing friendships, longstanding friendships. Obviously, many people grew to know and love you from your amazing movie, Girls Trip. What attracts you to continue to explore that whole idea? Now you mentioned that you feel like... Obviously, you said that friendships, more so, are constant. It's probably the most intimate relationship that we have. I always say, friendship breakups or friendship problems are harder than romantic ones. So besides that, is there anything else that adds to that whole dynamic that you love to keep exploring?
I think I've always been attracted to it because friends are really important in my life. My sister's like my best friend and I never really do sisters, but she kind of becomes characters, friend characters in my stuff. But I talk to my girlfriends about everything, and I just am really interested in those conversations more than I am with like men and women talking, because there's just so many funny and interesting things that we do as women together too. And there's just something always great and fun about a familial vibe. And I think that the way I write friends, like friends together is kind of like family together. In this show, and also First Wives, and with Girls Trip, they're intimate like family. They joke on each other like family, they talk... I don't know if I can say talk s—. They say crazy things to each other like family and they're the ones that are so vulnerable and honest that they can be like, "Girl, take that off. You look crazy."
Whereas, men can't even get away with that stuff. But it's just an honesty and a vulnerability that I think women have with each other that I just always love exploring. And I also love exploring friendships over time too and how they evolve. And so, I would love with Harlem, if it does get multiple seasons to kind of... And Sex and the City did it really well, but just show when marriage and kids and other things start entering the picture, how that affects your core friendship groups and stuff.
Now we mentioned Girls Trip. I would be remiss if I did not ask, is there an update on the whole process for the movie? Because you know, we're waiting.
(Sighs) That sigh is because I am waiting as well. The last time that I talked to Tiffany Haddish, she was like, "Girl, we doing this." And I was like, "Yay, it's happening." And then she's booked like a million things. And I don't know if it's ever going to all align, but it has to be cast availability and the budget has to work out. And if I can be really candid, it's the budget for why this has been really tricky.