When Leigh Davenport was in her mid-20s living in Harlem, N.Y., preoccupied with figuring out how to climb corporate and social ladders and scoring the best guy, she wanted to see her friend group on screen.
“At the time, there was a lot of reality TV that just showed Black women pouring drinks on each other and snatching weaves off and there was always a lot of conversation about how single Black women can’t get a man. There was so much enforcement of negative stereotypes and just a general air of negative energy, and I wanted something aspirational,” she tells Variety.
Deciding to be the change she wanted to see, Davenport drew on material from her own life to create “Run The World,” a half-hour comedy that follows four smart, funny and vibrant 30-something Black female friends and bows May 16 on Starz.
Because much of the series is a reflection of Davenport’s experiences, while the show was in production Davenport had moments of nostalgia because of her casting choices (the leads are played by Amber Stevens West, Andrea Bordeaux, Bresha Webb and Corbin Reid) and also because of filming locations.
“We got to film in some of my favorite restaurants and my favorite bar, and it was so nice to come back to the city. One of the brownstones that Matthew lives in is actually directly across the street from the apartment that I lived in for six years,” she says. “And the bench in the middle of the street that they sit on Episode 4? That’s my bench! It was such a sentimental and cool experience.”
“Run the World” is an unapologetically female show about enviable friendship and thriving together, for which Davenport shares she was heavily inspired by “Sex and the City.” (Being in college when it premiered launched, she notes she is part “of the generation of women that came of age” with the show.) Additionally, she credits “Girlfriends,” “Insecure,” “Girls” and “Living Single” for serving as additional muses.
The latter ended up being extra important to the evolution of “Run The World,” as “Living Single” creator Yvette Lee Bowser joined Davenport’s series as showrunner.
Working with Bowser, who also executive produces Netflix’s “Dear White People,” has been an “amazing learning experience,” Davenport says.
“She’s a legend in this industry. She’s touched every seminal African American show of my generation. And so to have her get on board and get behind me, and to set the tone of the show and to strongly support me by amplifying my voice and my vision was incredible. And to have the heft of what she knows and her experience, has really sharpened me and brought so much elevation to the project,” Davenport says.
While the show does focus on four Black women in Harlem, Davenport feels its central theme of friendship will speak to audiences of all backgrounds and origins.
“No matter your ethnicity, you want a group of real friends. Seeing girls that support each other and rag on each other and give each other crap and love each other, that’s relatable and that’s bigger than any artificial barriers,” she says, “so I just want people to enjoy their bond and enjoy the fun. If they come for the comedy and if they learn something about the culture and the community, then that’s an added amazing bonus.”