Godfather of Harlem S1
Ten-episode crime drama Godfather of Harlem reveals how real-life mob boss and street-drug kingpin Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson (Forest Whitaker giving a cool, charismatic performance that could single-handedly carry the series) took back control of Harlem from the Genovese crime family after he was released from serving an 11-year prison sentence on drug charges.
Upon his return home in the 1960s, Bumpy found his former neighbourhood being destroyed by violence, racial oppression, police corruption and exploitation.
The ex-convict negotiates his way back to power and plays his rivals against one another like a glamorous, seductive and deadly orchestra conductor. And his alliance with his old friend preacher Malcolm X (Nigél Thatch) and the rising civil rights movement gives a fresh spin on the classic gangland tale.
“It was interesting to look at criminality, the civil rights movement and politics in the same prism of the day. Some of the protests during that movement – about human rights, profiling, violence and brutality by the government – these are explored by different groups today,” says Forest. “It touches on the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter and these different issues – immigration even.”
With Italian designer Domenico Vacca dressing Bumpy in style, fantastic period-accurate sets and a solid 60s-inspired soundtrack put together by Swizz Beatz, there’s plenty to enjoy aside from the show’s politics, intrigue and bloodshed of gang war.
New episodes of Godfather of Harlem stream weekly on Tuesdays from 15 October at 21:30 at the same time as the DStv broadcast.