OPINION: The actress’ new show ‘Harlem’ shows the best is yet to come for Good—professionally and in life.
I was searching for a new show to fall in love with when I stumbled upon Harlem, a show about four Black women striving to live their best lives in a changing uptown New York City. The show’s main character is actress Meagan Good, who plays Camille, a tenure-track adjunct professor at Columbia University, haunted by past love choices as she tries to make her professional dreams come true.
Now I’ve been watching Meagan Good on my TV and movie screens since childhood. She started acting at 4 years old and had her breakthrough role on the big screen in the 1997 film, Eve’s Bayou, playing Cisely Batiste, the sister of Jurnee Smollet and daughter of Lynn Whitfield and Samuel L. Jackson who has a near-obsession with her daddy. As a bright-eyed and toothy-grinned teen, Meagan delivered a stunning and memorable performance, earning two NAACP Award nominations and cementing her as a child star destined for longevity in Hollywood.
Meagan then stole our hearts on the Nickelodeon show Cousin Skeeter, co-starring alongside Robert Ri’chard—who, ironically, makes an appearance in Harlem as well—going on to have a strong presence in the industry and culture. Her credits list is very long and includes appearing as the lead in TV shows like NBC’s Deception, films like Biker Boyz, Deliver Us From Eva and Think Like a Man, and even in music videos, such as 50 Cent’s “21 Questions.”
What has struck me about Meagan’s role in Harlem is just how perfect she is as a leading actress. Her character Camille captures the struggles of being a professional Black woman with genuineness, thoughtfulness, vulnerability and humor. She is legitimately funny. She is dynamic—not a two-dimensional stereotype of a “strong Black woman” or even a “lonely and educated” woman. Camille has had love in her life and chosen herself before. Although dating may be hard, she isn’t entirely obsessed with it—just messily navigating it along with her other passions and purpose in life.
Jerrie Johnson, Grace Byers, Meagan Good and Shoniqua Shandai attend Prime Video’s Brunch at Harriet’s Rooftop on December 12, 2021 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Arnold Turner/Getty Images for Prime Video)
Her scenes with the iconic Whoopi Goldberg leave a lot to unpack about the relationship between younger and more seasoned Black women in the workplace, and the expectations of support, sisterhood and what tough (vs. mean-spirited) love really looks like. The love notes to Harlem throughout the show’s arc let actual Harlemites (and adopted former residents like me) know that old Harlem must always be revered and respected, no matter the gentrification or changing times.
Meagan is balanced just right against her equally brilliant co-stars, Grace Byers (Quinn the boutique owner), Shoniqua Shandai (Angie, the aspiring singer), and Jerrie Johnson (Tye, the pioneering tech businesswoman). Each woman has different aspects of their identity threaded through their storyline: Caribbean American, African American, successful entrepreneur, struggling entrepreneur, artist, teacher, queer, bi-curious, high-income, working-class, Harlem-bred and Southern-born, showing us that very different birds of a feather can still flock together.
In each episode, Camille recites deep messages for her college students about gender, womanhood and what it means to be like a Mosuo woman—a small matrilineal ethnic tribe of women in China, who are the heads of their households, and enjoy the company of men but don’t necessarily center their lives around them.
It seems to be a perfect and fitting storyline for the woman playing her, Meagan Good, an actress who has herself spoken herself about the limited roles in Hollywood for Black women. Meagan has been a supporting actress often, and sometimes even a lead actress. But some of these roles tried to oversimplify or even hypersexualize her, to the point where Meagan Good the person, was facing harsh scrutiny as Meagan Good the actress.
“People think, ‘Oh, that’s Meagan Good—she’s the sexy girl, she’s hip-hop culture, she was in the ‘21 Questions’ video, she doesn’t have a lot of depth so let’s keep her in these types of characters,” the actress said in an interview with The Daily Beast last year.
After marrying a Hollywood producer and pastor DeVon Franklin in 2012, the criticism ratcheted up in certain circles about her “fit” as a first lady and fashion choices, then transformed into curious observation, as the then-couple wrote a book about celibacy called The Wait.
“People then shifted to, ‘Oh, she has a lot of depth. She wrote this book, her husband is a pastor.’ But I’m not vastly different. You just perceive me different,” Good told The Daily Beast.
Good has since parted ways with Franklin, posting an amicable statement that the two were mutually moving forward in life on separate paths—an announcement that shocked many in the public.
While the end of chapters such as a marriage can carry tremendous levels of sadness and grief, I celebrate what appears to be a promising and exciting new chapter for Meagan Good the person and the professional. Our media has always been too obsessed with who women date and who they are tied to as an evaluation of their worth and social standing. Meagan was and still is that girl, single, married, coupled or uncoupled.
I love seeing Meagan in a starring role—looking absolutely beautiful, fit, confident and at the top of her acting game. Like her character Camille, she has worked hard in the industry she loves, for more than three decades to be exact. And she’s stepping into new opportunities—running her own production company, Freedom Bridge Entertainment, directing and writing.
After turning 40 this past year, Good told New Beauty magazine, “You suddenly become more aware of your health and wellness—now, it’s all I think about. I need my body to take me where I want it to go, but I’m in a really peaceful place right now: spiritually, emotionally, physically. It’s just a really wonderful time in life.”
When a person is in the spotlight for so long, it’s easy for the public to assume they know who they are. Meagan Good has shown us that in the words of the great Audre Lorde, she is defining herself for herself, and there is so much more to get to know—and love—about her.
Natasha S. Alford is VP of Digital Content and Senior Correspondent at theGrio. An award-winning journalist, filmmaker, and TV personality, Alford is writing her forthcoming book “American Negra.” Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @natashasalford.
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