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How ‘Harlem’ Creator Tracy Oliver is Having Her Say in the Hollywood Writers’ Room

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
As Harlem returns for Season 2 on Amazon Prime Video, the famed writer spoke with Boardroom about the role of the Black female voice in Hollywood.

Tracy Oliver‘s resume expands beyond one or two projects. From the Jada Pinkett-Smith and Queen Latifah starring Girls Trip film in 2017 to today’s trending Amazon Prime Video series Harlem starring Meagan Good and Grace Byers, which premiered its second season on Feb. 3, Oliver has unapologetically created a safe space for Black female voices and narratives in Hollywood’s writers’ rooms.

“I would say there’s still a lot more work to be done, but I’m a lot happier with the opportunities than I was, say, 10 years ago,” Oliver told Boardroom regarding the evolution of the Black female lens in film and television. In comparison to when she was working with Issa Rae on her web series back when “there just weren’t any black women on screen just to put it in perspective,” voices like hers have been amplified on shows such as Rae’s Insecure on HBO and Leigh Davenport’s Run The World on Starz — but that doesn’t take away from the fact that there’s so much work that still needs to be done.

Tracy Oliver attends Prime Video’s Harlem Season 2 Exclusive Los Angeles Screening (Arnold Turner/Getty Images for Prime Video)

“That was before Atlanta, that was before Scandal, Black-ish, all of those shows, they didn’t exist,” she said of her early days working her way up in the industry. “I would’ve killed for a show like Harlem. It would’ve been my dream to write for that type of show, but I didn’t have that so I kind of had to create the models for the newer writers that are coming in. Because of the success of Harlem, Girls Trip, Insecure, and Atlanta, you’re having an easier time selling shows.”

As Oliver continued, she acknowledged the difficult aspects of both creating and taking up space for Black women in the Hollywood boardroom and in the often-insular community of writers and creatives. “The hard part is it’s still kind of relegated to comedy only. I think we can kind of do more in other spaces, but comedy seems to be the easiest way to get a Black lead on the air. I think we could do better as far as different genres and opening the space for other types of stories to be told.” 

Tracy Oliver at the Variety Studio, Presented by King’s Hawaiian (Photo by Michelle Quance/Variety via Getty Images)

Starting in front of the camera as an actress in Issa Rae’s The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Oliver gradually found the power in her voice behind the scenes as a pen pusher before becoming a creator of bespoke stories with which underserved audiences would identify. So far, Oliver’s non-exhaustive list of credits includes Marsai Martin’s Little, the BET original series First Wives Club, and The Sun is Also a Star starring Yara Shahidi, all while snagging an eight-figure overall deal with Apple in 2021.

Did we forget to mention that Oliver became the first Black woman to write a film that grossed more than $100 million?

That film was Girls Trip, which is currently set to start production in Ghana with its original cast for a confirmed sequel exclusively reported by Variety on Jan. 23.

For the second season of Harlem, her latest project that follows the lives of four 30-something Black women making their way through New York City life, Oliver is using her perspective and her pen to deliver the same empathy, humor, and warmth that she has done seamlessly across every Black female-led project that she has taken on over the past decade.

So, what are the keys to her success in the writers’ room? Timeliness, authenticity, and voice.

And which of the three elements is the most important when writing a show or a movie?

Here’s what Oliver had to tell Boardroom, in order of necessity and relevance to creating a project:


“I would say authenticity is probably the most important, and the reason I say that is because I worked with this producer Will Packer on Girls Trip, and I remember having a conversation with him about ‘How Black can I be on this? ‘Cause I can go really Black or I can kind of be a little more safe.’ And the reason I was even asking that question is because sometimes when you’re a Black writer and you’re writing for executives that don’t have your experience, you tend to hold back. He said, ‘Be as authentic as possible because if you don’t get your core audience, you’re not gonna get anybody else.’ That was like a big life lesson for me, and since he said that, I’ve leaned all the way in.

“I don’t hold back from telling my truth or my experiences out of fear. Even if people don’t like it or if people are uncomfortable with the stories, I just go for it anyway, because if you’re playing it safe and you’re trying to hit the mainstream instead of telling your authentic truth, you kind of sometimes will miss everybody. So, you might as well lean into that.”

Photo courtesy of Prime Video


“I would say timeliness is second because part of being an artist is tapping into the zeitgeist and the cultural moment that’s happening and you don’t want to be behind, if that makes any sense. Your stuff can feel dated if you’re dealing with issues from 10 years ago or five years ago, so you have to kind of always be living life and be aware of the conversations that people are having. If not, people are gonna be like, ‘Oh, that feels like we’ve already seen this before.’ It feels dated or overdone, and I try to like be fresh and try to think of stuff that’s happening that people haven’t quite tackled.”


“Voice is important, but that just comes naturally to me that I just write how I write and I don’t ever worry about that. That’s how literally whatever I put on the page is my voice.”

Two new episodes of Harlem premiere every Friday on Amazon Prime Video throughout Season 2. Click here to learn more about the show.

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About The Author
D'Shonda Brown
D'Shonda Brown
D'Shonda Brown is the Music and Entertainment Editor at Boardroom. Prior to joining the Boardroom team, she served as the Associate Editor at ESSENCE and Girls United, ESSENCE's Generation Z platform. Through the years, the Spelman College graduate has amassed bylines in entertainment, fashion, beauty, wellness, and business across For(bes) The Culture, HYPEBAE, Byrdie, HighSnobiety, xoNecole, REVOLT, and more.