Are you a Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, or Miranda? Truthfully, I’ve never been able to answer that question — I don’t identify with any of the characters from Sex and the City. Despite being a twenty-something career woman living in same concrete jungle where the clique of well-dressed friends had their over-the-top adventures, I couldn't see myself in any of them. Whether it was the fact that the characters were much older than me or the very fact of their potent white privilege, Sex and the City has always been none of my Black girl business.
But Living Single, Girlfriends, and Insecure? All of my business. For better or for worse, I haven identified a part of myself in every single one of these projects — I'm wholly Issa Dee with the career trajectory of Khadijah James and an unfortunate splash of Joan Clayton's neuroticism from time to time — and know women just like the characters in my real life. Black women you want to be friends with (Kelli and Maya), Black women who prefer the vibes to the real world (Lynn — admit it, she was outta there), Black women you love to death but can only handle in microdoses (Toni and Tiffany). That immediate recognition, especially within a landscape that is increasingly set on limiting the breadth and nuance of its Black female characters, is exactly what gives these shows staying power, and why they will resonate with Black woman for generations to come. It's the classic homegirl comedy formula, and it works every single time.
Run the World is another strong example of the formula's impact, as it should be; after all, it has the genius responsible for the OG homegirl comedy behind it.
Run the World, the brainchild of creator Leigh Davenport, follows a tight-knit circle of friends living, working, and loving in modern-day Harlem. Yvette Lee Bowser (Living Single, Half and Half, Dear White People) is the showrunner of the new Starz original series, bringing with her decades of television and film experience and a specific intention behind always placing Black female friendships at the center of her work.
There's Elle (Andrea Bordeaux), a struggling author-turned-journalist whose tumultuous work life pales in comparison to the chaos of her love life. We've got diva and almost-divorcee Renee (Bresha Webb), who is mourning the downturn of her marriage to a sexy but very trifling husband. Their woo-woo friend Sondi (Corbin Reid) is helping her secret boyfriend — and Ph.D. advisor — raise his daughter, and corporate wunderkind Whitney (Amber Stevens West) is trying to plan a wedding to her college sweetheart while staving off her cold feet. Overall, Run the World is beautiful Black chaos. Drama included, I imagine that it's what my life might be like if I had enough money to live in a brownstone uptown and if all the men around me were extremely fine. (Like, really fine.)
That's the whole point of Run the World, explained Bowser in a Zoom conversation with Refinery29, and it's the the same reason why she eagerly signed on to help Davenport bring the story to life for Starz. As a creative working in Hollywood throughout the years, Bowser's goal has always been to make Black women feel seen, particularly through the vehicle of Black female friendship.
"Enviable female friendships are at the center of my life — period," said Bowser. "Some of the most important and life-saving relationships I've had have been with my female friends and relatives. I've made highlighting these special bonds my mission as a human and as a storyteller because I just enjoy paying homage to the way that support gives us life."
"Helping refine and polish each other in our individual struggles...that's our magic," she continued. "So part of my heritage and my role as a griot is to continue telling the stories of these women."
For Davenport, that world was similarly easy to fashion from the start because it actually pulls from her own experience as a Black woman navigating the colorful streets of Harlem. The creator and executive producer knows firsthand that magic of the upper Manhattan neighborhood because she resided there with her girls by her side for years after graduating from Spelman College, and that familiarity made it a perfect setting for this story — and almost a fifth friend in the crew. From boozy brunches to impromptu parties to sneaky links, Harlem is the girls' stomping grounds as well as the place where they experience both the highs and lows that have made them the women they are today.
Davenport's decision to situate these blickity-Black characters in this blickity-Black neighborhood for this blickity-Black story, as well as Starz' rush to green light it, speak to the ever important push for positive and diverse representations of Blackness in television and in film. Even as we're bemoaning narratives of Black pain and trauma, creatives like Davenport are building on the groundwork laid by storytellers like Bowser to continue telling the stories of every day Black people. And because she's got her finger on the pulse of culture, Davenport leaned into a plot line that she knows will never get old: collective Black girl magic. (Or, as Sondi says in the show's trailer, "world domination!")
"I think that in the last 10 years, there's been a slow but steady shift towards diverse stories," Davenport told Refinery29 over Zoom, citing works like Queen Sugar, Atlanta, and Insecure as examples of the industry change. "And there's been a release of these dated and incorrect ways of thinking that tell us that people from different backgrounds won't watch Black shows. That's simply not true; it's just something that the industry has said to defend not giving us more opportunities to be on screen."
"Starz is a global network, so Run the World is going to be shown in 50 countries," she added. "And people from all over the world are already so excited about it because these four women remind them of their girlfriends. Some things in life are universal; friendship is one of them."
There are those who will immediately see the series and label it the "Black Sex and the City," and Davenport doesn't necessarily mind the comparison. But whereas the cult staple HBO project centered entirely on white womanhood, Run the World grounds itself on the beauty and struggles of being Black femininity in all of its forms. Davenport's hope is that this intentional highlighting of Black women will stick in the TV/film world and encourage people to keep telling these stories for years to come.
"It's pretty cool to be called 'the Black Sex and the City' because that show had a global reach and kinda defined what it meant to be a chic, modern woman for such a long time," said Davenport. "So to have this show, which is about Black women, have that same impact...I think that's really powerful."
"We're seeing the walls come down over time, and I'm hoping that Run the World helps that," she concluded. "I hope that through it, we can carry the torch even further."
New episodes of Run the World premiere on Starz every Saturday night. Watch an episode show and come back to let me know — are you an Elle, Sondi, Renee, or Whitney?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.