Harper On HBO’s Industry Is The Black Anti-Heroine We’ve Been Waiting For

Photo: courtesy of HBO Max.
This story contains minor spoilers for Industry Season 1 & 2.
“Anyone extremely dislike Harper?” Someone posted to a thread on Reddit recently about the HBO series Industry and its main character, Harper Stern (Myha’la Herrold). I really wanted to believe that this opinion was held by this commenter alone, but unfortunately, there appears to be a great number of people who dislike Harper Stern. Well, I am here to hit back at the Harper hate. 
Whether you’re feeling secondhand anxiety for her or want to throw something at her out of anger, Harper is a character that keeps you on the edge of your seat. No matter the emotion she elicits, it’s clear that Harper is why Industry is worth watching. I don’t love describing a show in relation to another show —  the comparison never fully encapsulates the essence — but I suppose Industry is like if  Succession and Euphoria had a baby. The show centers around a group of young, hungry graduates competing for positions at Pierpoint & Co., a prestigious investment bank in London. The main group of graduates also consists of Rob Spearing (Harry Lawtey), Yasmin Yazdani (Marisa Abela), and Gus Sackey (David Jonsson). They love competition, work, and money as much as they love sex, drugs, and partying.
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Photo: courtesy of HBO Max.
I am a fan of Harper because I see a bit of her in me — and as a Black woman watching TV, that’s rare, especially since she’s so flawed. This is the part where you throw tomatoes at me because my connection to Harper must mean I am also a horrible person, according to haters on Reddit. I’m not supporting her because we’re the same person, because I, for one, couldn’t work in finance. Every time I watch Industry, I start thinking that maybe a career in finance could be fun and the chaos would keep me on my toes, but then one of Harper's superiors will yell and disparage their employees, and I remember I’m too gentle. I would be either crying in the bathroom after work every day or hardening very fast to fit in. And that dichotomy is where Harper lives; she flips between having anxiety attacks in the office, bursts of anger and drinking away her sorrows after work. 
Some viewers don’t love Harper’s anxious spiraling or her anger issues, but what they forget is that Harper is human. People don’t always make the best choices for themselves. Yes, Harper should take her boss Eric’s advice and talk to the people on the third floor who help with mental health services, and yes, she should stop isolating herself and living in a hotel. But also, when you’re a Black woman from a low-income background in an environment like corporate finance, people are always trying to undermine you. Harper doesn’t go to the third floor out of fear that she’ll be seen as unable to handle the pressure of her job or that people will think she can’t succeed without help. For Black women in the workplace, asking for help isn’t always seen as a necessity. Instead, it can appear as a strike against you or a sign of incompetence, and Harper doesn’t need more people doubting her abilities. Never forget in season 1 when Harper overheard two women in the bathroom whispering about how easy it must have been for her to get hired since she’s Black and poor. From the first day, Harper’s ability was undermined because of things she can’t control, so it’s no surprise that she would try to control everything she can.
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For Black women in the workplace, asking for help isn’t always seen as a necessity. Instead, it can appear as a strike against you or a sign of incompetence.

Photo: courtesy of HBO Max.
I see myself in Harper’s anxiety. I relate to worrying that people will dismiss my talents because of preconceived notions about my work ethic because I’m a Black woman. I understand the worry that in a predominantly white space, it’ll be harder for my efforts to be recognized. Characters should not be vilified for having emotions, for being anxious, or for having worries, but for some reason, Harper’s humanity strikes a nerve in some viewers and even characters within the show. It may be because they don’t believe that Black women should show those kinds of emotions. One Reddit user commented, “I expected her to be [a] superwoman. Turns out she is human and experienced a lot of trauma that she was expected to just get over or make her stronger.” There are constant calls for Harper to be stronger, less anxious, or for her to just get over things and I think it’s unfair.

Characters should not be vilified for having emotions, for being anxious, or for having worries, but for some reason, Harper’s humanity strikes a nerve in some viewers... it may be because they don’t believe that Black women should show those kinds of emotions.

So often, Black women are not allowed to be flawed. The same fans who shit on Harper seem to love Yasmin, a character whose choices are even worse. Yasmin is continuously rude, manipulates her friends, brings in less work than her peers (which isn’t entirely her fault because of her misogynistic boss), and worst of all, she betrays Harper. Yet, there is a lack of vitriol for her from viewers. Harper may be a lot of things, but she always gets the job done.  Even though she’s rude sometimes and not just super driven to succeed, she’s a caring friend. She checks in on Rob and Greg all the time, making sure they don’t drink too much, and she reassures Rob after his coworkers make fun of how he dresses because he is poor. She lets Hari (Nabhaan Rizwan) sleep in her room when he’s too drunk to find his own, and she speaks up for Yasmin when her boss is inappropriate with her. She continuously makes sure to show up for her friends. Harper is a redeemable character and that’s a hill that I am willing to die on. When other characters behave badly, viewers give them so much grace. I ask you to give Harper the same. If the non-Black viewers who are hating on Harper could get over their anti-Blackness and need for Black women to be perfect, they could enjoy Industry and Harper as much as I do.
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Black women are multifaceted and Harper shows that. Her character’s complexity is a necessary addition to the tropes we constantly see of Black women on TV.  I love that you go from rooting for her to wondering when she’s going to get her shit together, stop ignoring her mental health, and stop riding on waves of arrogance. Being arrogant is not a good look, but all the other first-year analysts seem to walk around with a swagger drenched in arrogance, and yet, only Harper’s character gets the brunt of the criticism. In finance, it’s good to be ruthless, but for some reason, it only looks bad on Harper. Characters like Harper aren’t usually portrayed by Black women onscreen. She’s driven, anxious, and prone to breakdowns, all the while balancing imposter syndrome and Machiavellian tendencies. 
Photo: courtesy of HBO Max.
When you consider all the things Harper is dealing with on the show — from superiors who verbally assault her, to living in a new country, to the stress of trying to be perfect, and even her will-they-won’t-they-relationship with Rob — I think she’s doing her best. It’s not just the viewers who are mean to Harper, it’s also her colleagues like Rishi who shits on her constantly, and Yasmin who can’t be happy with the fact that Harper is good at her job. At times, Harper is maddening, but she is also talented — so much more talented than a lot of her peers who do not complete as many deals as she does. Harper is working in a very toxic environment and  she is, in no way, the worst person in the room. 
Again, Harper is human and it’s okay to have morally gray characters on TV — especially Black women ones. I formed a soft spot for our morally ambiguous fave Harper and you can too. It’s time to give Harper a break. She’s a young woman in her twenties, still figuring herself out, and people should allow her the space to grow (instead of comparing her to Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones, who, let’s not forget, was a murdering sociopath). Let Black women be shitty on TV. Let them be anxious balls of twine on the edge of unraveling with one tiny tug. It’s OK to pull on the threads of imperfection. Spoiler alert: sometimes we fall apart in real life too. 
Catch Industry on Mondays at 9 PM on HBO Max.

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