Run the World premieres on Starz on Sunday, May 16. Here creator Leigh Davenport shares the inspiration behind the show.
When I was nine years old, my parents took my brothers and me on a vacation to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. On one long, sunny day at the beach, my older brother and I made friends with two white kids, spending the day splashing in the water and making sandcastles. As the sun began to set and our time together came to a close, one of the kids looked at us and said, “You look like Vanessa, and he looks like Theo.” My brother and I exchanged glances, not sure what to say, so we said nothing and continued to play until our parents dragged us out of the water.
See, I was more than a bit perturbed about the whole thing. I had never been a fan of Vanessa Huxtable’s hairstyles on The Cosby Show, so while I may have reluctantly accepted being compared to Rudy, I just couldn’t see how she landed on Vanessa. Later that day I shared my very serious and well-reasoned argument with my mother. She looked at me both annoyed and somewhat amused and said, “Sweetie, Theo and Vanessa are probably the only other Black kids that girl has ever seen.” Something about her tone made it clear to me that we’d reached the end of the conversation, though I was even more confused.
She’s never seen Black people?! I was too young to understand it was possible to attend an all-white school or live in an all-white anything in 1990s America. I certainly didn’t understand that South Carolina was in “the South” and that “the South” was very different from Chicago, where I grew up attending racially and ethnically diverse schools. All I knew was that I didn’t look like Vanessa Huxtable.
Was my mother insane? Was she telling me it was possible for someone to interact with Black people only through a television screen—that TV is how people learn who “other” people are? I still admire the incredulity of my nine-year-old self. That moment on the beach has never left me. It was the power of it all. The sudden realization that images onscreen can inform, educate, inspire, provoke—there was just so much power. I suppose, looking back, that experience was the beginning of my obsession with storytelling, one that led me first to poetry, then journalism and ultimately to screenwriting.
It was startling, honestly, when I realized in my mid-20s that I was still actively searching for authentic and relatable reflections of myself on television. Run the World was created out of a sense of rebellion. It was 2009, and it seemed everyone had something to say about Black womanhood. There was this whole, “You need to ‘think like a man’ and change everything about yourself to ‘find your Barack’” moment happening. It felt a bit like hysteria—the articles about single Black women being the least desired on dating apps, the statistics about all the Black men in prison, the NBC Nightly News special “African-American Women: Where They Stand.” (Yes, that really aired, and it was a five-night event. ABC followed suit with a Nightline special of its own.) Even Oprah was in the conversation. “Ladies!” she bellowed on an unforgettable episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, “Seventy percent of Black women are single!!!” The message was pervasive and clear: Single, smart, successful Black women were in crisis.
But…were we? Honestly, even though I was an unemployed disaster at the time (damn you, financial crash of 2008), I wasn’t buying it. I was surrounded by phenomenal women of all ages— smart, independent, loving, laughing, and mostly having a blast. Sure, we ran up against our fair share of career challenges and dating woes, all great fodder for lively brunch conversation. But to us, the challenges of early adulthood did not seem like an omen of lifelong singledom and misery. I couldn’t help but wonder: Where on television were my Black sisters I knew, who were striving, thriving, and fighting to be their best selves, despite all the demands this world places on our minds, bodies, and souls? I wanted to see that show, and it wasn’t there. So I decided to create it.
A decade has passed since I wrote my very first draft, and much has changed. The hysteria of the doomed single Black woman has faded, and instead we proudly acknowledge that #BlackGirlsRock and celebrate #BlackGirlMagic and scream out in protest that #BlackLivesMatter. We are also very tired. We are so very tired of waking up to cell phone videos of dead Black bodies in the streets. We clamor for justice and hunger for escapism—for joy.
Run the World was written with the intention to bring joy through the journey of four loving, devoted sister-friends. It is specific and small, authentic and truthful, and deeply joyous.
For many of us, the heaviness of this social-political moment is inescapable. Black joy is not a rebuttal to Black trauma, nor is it a cure. Black joy is the thing we have, the thing we keep for ourselves—a sacred way in which we are able to laugh, to breathe, to smile through the darkest of moments, to survive and thrive, even when the persistence of racism seems to be unyielding. I want us to have this show right now. I want us to gather and laugh and cheer for these girls and have a 30-minute respite in our week from the madness. We need this show, because the horrific series we’re watching on our phones has been given far too many seasons, and desperately needs to be canceled.
I believe that protecting your peace, shielding your spirit, and nurturing your joy is protest. I believe watching smart, ambitious Black women striving to live their best lives is impactful. I believe making Harlem the entryway for experiencing modern New York City can be informative and aspirational, and I think watching healthy Black love can be transformational.
In this moment, Black images are always made political, and while I don’t know if any of us can explain what it means to be political in 2021, I will conclude with this: Right now there are billboards in Los Angeles and Big Red buses in New York City with posters that read, Run the World. Next to those words is an image of four stunning young Black women. If that’s political, I’m here for it.
See Source HERE
Share This Story