Harlem’s seventh episode tackles the “Strong Black Woman” trope head-on through Tye, a successful app developer who faints on the subway and finds herself in the hospital on bed rest.
The health scare forces her to finally slow down and give her body a much-needed break while her friends engulf her in love and support.
“We started talking about just the idea of the ‘strong black woman’ and how there’s so much pressure put on us to not show our emotions, and to be strong at all times, and we’re praised for being that,” series creator and showrunner Tracy Oliver tells TVLine.
“When we went around the room, there was a writer that was dealing with a fibroids issue, and then someone who had a miscarriage, and there are so many issues that we were silently going through. We were mostly Black women just silently dealing with these heavy things on a daily basis.”
While recovering from a cyst removal, Tye learns that she is anemic and suffers from uterine fibroids — which she didn’t know she had. According to USA Fibroids Centers, 80 to 90 percent of Black women are impacted by fibroids. Black women are at three times higher risk for developing anemia, twice as likely to have a hysterectomy and seven times more likely to have a myomectomy (surgical removal of fibroids from the uterus).
Despite severe symptoms and the fact that it is so common, fibroids are rarely discussed, and many continue to suffer in silence. “It’s a pressing issue in the Black community, but very under-researched and very unexplored and not discussed enough, so we wanted to highlight it,” Oliver shares.
Tye’s fibroids story also sheds light on how physicians make assumptions about Black women, often to their detriment. In the episode, Tye’s doctor recommends a hysterectomy as the “easiest” and most effective method because she’s a masc presenting lesbian and he assumes that she doesn’t want to have kids.
And while Tye previously stated she had no intention of getting pregnant, “there’s a difference between not being able to have a baby and not wanting to,” as she put it. For Oliver, Tye was the least likely poster child for fertility struggles, and therefore the perfect person to tackle this story.
“The most masc presenting woman is probably the most nuanced and most interesting way into it because people would extra assign her to be a strong Black woman, and no one would give Tye the benefit of the doubt the way that you might some of the more feminine-skewing characters,” she notes.
“For her to be going through this, and for this doctor to make an assumption about whether she wants to have kids or not, I feel like it’s so many different conversations being had on multiple levels,” Jerrie Johnson, who plays Tye, adds. “What was important was that this was the thing that had to stop Tye in her tracks so that she can reflect and bring the friends together in an authentic way. In that moment, we got to see each other in this new light.”