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Leigh Davenport's On Friendship, Race And Feminism In 'Run The World'


There's the writer, romantic Ella, in love with a man her friends hate, the outspoken diva Renee, Sondi, the intellectual, and Whitney, the perfect one in the seemingly perfect relationship. "Run The World" is the fun new series about four best friends living their best lives in Harlem. Leigh Davenport is the creator and co-executive producer and she joins me now. Hello.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: There are, obviously, a few other examples of TV shows about four female friends living in New York City. But "Run The World" is different. What space did you want to fill?

DAVENPORT: Well, you know, I really felt like, when I was young living in New York City, I had never seen the - a version of what was my life and my experiences. There's been so much New York and so little Harlem and the cultural collisions and the music and - you know, all of that felt missing from, you know, great shows that I think we all love, you know, that show women living in New York. But there was, you know, just an aesthetic and a place of location that I felt like we hadn't seen. And, you know, that was Harlem, and that was, you know, these Black girls that are on "Run The World."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The thing that also makes this work so well is the four women. They are so specifically drawn. Explain to us who they are and their friendship.

DAVENPORT: Absolutely. So this show is kind of loosely inspired by my life and my friends, and so I took a lot of them and put them in these girls. Ella is the one that was kind of based on where I was kind of in my early 30s and, you know, trying to figure out my career and figure out love. And, you know, Sondi is our smart academic, kind of fierce. And Renee is that firecracker - the person that's going to, like, beat your boyfriend up for you if he does something wrong. And last, we have Whitney, who's, you know, kind of our Type A, you know, do-everything-right girl. But, you know, that comes with a lot of anxiety, right? Like, being perfect all the time is pressure.

And, you know, as a collective, they're just really great, supportive girlfriends. You know, they're sisters. And you see that in the way that they interact with each other. You know, they tell each other when something's wrong. They call each other on their crap. And because they're so honest, you know, inherently, they're hilarious.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, they are hilarious. I mean, the conversations that these women have with each other - and it is similar to how "Sex And The City" really showed how women talk about sex with their friends. But these women also talk about - yes, sex and men, but also feminism, racism, money, porn, egg freezing - I mean, everything.

DAVENPORT: Yeah. You know, we're really well-rounded people - right? - if you allow us to be. And so I think part of the thing that's been missing from depictions of Black women is that fullness, is that ability to, you know, sit at brunch and talk about social justice and then talk about who you're dating and then talk about the Prada shoes you want to buy and then talk about your career and the chick that you need to get out of your way so you can make it to the next level. You know, like, all of that is a 45-minute chat.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the writing's really sharp. There's this scene where Sondi is giving a pep talk to Ella and she says, we are Black girls in America. We don't get to do that. Head up, eyes on the prize, world domination.

DAVENPORT: Yeah, I love that line. I wrote that.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Well, it's a good line. It made me sort of sit up straighter watching it, you know?

DAVENPORT: Yeah, no. I mean, I think that is so important because I think, to your first question, what makes this show different is that we are Black women, right? And so there are things that you don't get to whine and complain about, you know? Most of us are not in a situation where you can call home and ask your parents for money to bail you out. You know, you've got to work the job that you don't like because that is what life is. You know, you pay your own bills, and you find a way to make it. And so it's just, I think, a more realistic look at what it takes to strive for the best.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I have to talk about the clothes.

DAVENPORT: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I just have to talk about the clothes. I know we've just had this serious moment. And what you said was incredibly important, and I appreciate you for that, but the clothes are amazing. You use the same costume designer as "Sex And The City," Patricia Field. And, I mean, even the bathing suits are just...

DAVENPORT: Yes. I love the bathing suit scene.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Works of art.

DAVENPORT: Love it. It's one of my faves.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But wardrobe also, especially for women, says something about the women.

DAVENPORT: Yeah. You know, it's - it was amazing working with Patricia and her whole team. The conversations are not just about what looks good. The conversations are about character. And I think that Black women do so much with style and style aesthetic. And we're...


DAVENPORT: ...So creative about, you know, making presentation, you know, kind of central to our confidence and, you know, the way we move and occupy space. And so keeping these girls colorful and youthful and bold and having interesting statement pieces and, you know, at the highest levels of fashion and incorporating new designers and Black designers and African designers, you know, just - I can't wait for people to see it. I mean, we were just, like, gagging over the clothes all the time and, like, fighting. Like, can I buy that? It's going to be fun.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think there could be an entire spin-off there of shopping the show for the wider public because I got to say, I was watching this, and, like, these clothes are amazing.

So I'm going to end with a question because there was always this classic question about "Sex And The City," right? Are you a Samantha, a Carrie, a Charlotte or a Miranda? And, you know, obviously Ella was based on you, but maybe things have changed for you. So are you a Renee, Sondi, Ella or Whitney?

DAVENPORT: You know, these days I'm more of a Sondi, actually. I'm writing this show from the rearview. And I'm now 37, and I've had a baby that's 2, and I have a stepdaughter that's 10. I kind of sometimes look up and I - there - I'm stepping on toys, and there's diapers, and I'm like, how am I a grown-up, and when did that happen? And I think that really echoes Sondi's journey in this first season. Like, I signed up for this, but did I really sign up for this? And maybe I shouldn't have. So I - these days I'm walking as more of a Sondi in the world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Leigh Davenport - her sparkling new series is "Run The World." Thank you very much.

DAVENPORT: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.