Female attorneys going head to head in a heated courtroom battle isn’t something often seen on television.
Now imagine that the two women standing on opposite sides of the case are best friends.
This is the premise of Delilah, a new series airing on OWN.
The narrative follows Delilah Connolly, a headstrong, highly principled lawyer who left a demanding white-shoe law firm a decade ago, hanging up her own shingle so she could make raising her kids her #1 priority. Now, she takes on cases the big firms ignore, often going head-to-head with the powerful and privileged as she fights for the disenfranchised.
Craig Wright, who created and serves as Executive Producer on the series, says that in Delilah he and his team, “wanted to make something bigger and broader, and we wanted to ask more questions about where society’s headed, and how Black women and Black Americans are going to continue being a major part of the unfolding of American history.”
In the series, Maahra Hill (Black-ish, How to Get Away With Murder) stars as Delilah Connolly, with Jill Mare Jones (Girlfriends, Sleepy Hollow) playing her confidante and best friend Tamara Roberts.
Hill admits that she’s thrilled to be portraying, ‘an empowered, strong-minded woman with a strong moral compass.’
“I think she reflects Black women and Black America in ways that we haven’t seen on a consistent basis,” says Hill. She adds, “I think that she’s an accurate reflection of women who are trying to balance their lives, as well as fight for things that are meaningful to them.”
The fact that her character is an African-American female does complicate her journey says Hill. “Of course, there are gonna be some issues around discrimination because she’s a woman and because she’s Black.” But, she believes, “I do think that there is probably a little bit more to be said [about] being Black and a woman; you have to kind of push a little bit harder because of those things. But I see in Delilah something that is heroic [in the way she handles things.].
Craig Wright says that the character is passionate about addressing injustice, and that, ‘her desire for justice and for fairness and for truth transcends all boundaries.’
It’s this type of passion that drew Jones was drawn to participate in the series as Tamara, she says. “I typically migrate towards dynamic female characters – badasses. Clearly I love that.”
She goes on to explain one of the predicaments of her character that viewers need to understand, saying, “There’s a thing that is called the token Negro. And [my character] is in a large firm and she doesn’t realize that she’s a token Negro, which is — woo, let’s see how I can define it — black person that has kind of been given a special place above others. But sometimes you don’t know it until you know it. And then you realize that her rose colored glasses are off, basically. So, things are not what she thought that they were.”
This is very important to the narrative, says Charles Randolph Wright, an Executive Producer on the series. “That’s the thing that’s so amazing about these women – that they exist everywhere, that they deal with these same issues, but they aren’t the ones that you [typically] see portrayed [on television], and that’s what is so thrilling about this show.”
It was Cheryl Dunye, the director of the first two episodes who pushed to set a certain tone, says Craig Wright. “She wanted to make sure that the truth of the situation was going to be seen, and that was that Black women like Delilah and Tamara do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of communities. They’re part of neighborhoods. They’re part of larger extended families. So, we always were trying to find little ways to inform the audience that these women had these connections.”
He says that one of the great gifts of so much content right now is the ability to bring this kind of specificity to the screen, and he firmly believes that, “The need for women like Delilah in America is always going to be there.”
‘Delilah’ airs Tuesdays at 9e/p on OWN.
Oftentimes, when movies or TV shows film in locations, they’re looking for a general “city” feel. “Homeland,” which filmed in Charlotte from 2011-14, for instance, used the city’s skyscrapers to suggest Washington, D.C., and suburban areas for northern Virginia. The setting was never supposed to actually be Charlotte.
But in the new Oprah Winfrey Network’s TV series “Delilah,” which premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m., Charlotte is a main character.
The skyline is in the opening credits. Delilah clearly walks through Fourth Ward when she exits her house and stops for lunch at an uptown restaurant. Another character in the series opener worked for a company in Gastonia (side note: What is with Gastonia having its moment in the sun recently?).
“Delilah” is notable for its focus on strong, Black women as lead characters in the show. But another character will probably be of interest to Charlotteans.
“Many shows have shot here, but I believe we are the first where Charlotte is actually a character,” said executive producer Charles Randolph-Wright.
Randolph-Wright is a York, South Carolina, native and said he leapt at the opportunity to work on the show – even during the COVID-19 era.
“Returning to Charlotte to executive produce and direct a new series on the OWN network and to work with the astounding executive producer Oprah Winfrey was beyond my wildest dreams,” he said. “It still is beyond the wildest dreams of this child from Carolina. But in Carolina, we do know how to dream and to dream big. …
“Charlotte, you opened your doors, and even though we could not hug, you opened your arms to our production, which became your production.”
In typical Oprah fashion, Winfrey gushed about “Deliiiiiiilaaaaaah” in a virtual premiere and expressed gratitude for the ease with which Charlotte embraced the series. Rumor has it that Mayor Vi Lyles will make an appearance in the show, and City Council member Braxton Winston worked as a grip on the production.
“I’m extremely proud of the work that we have done — oh, my goodness — on this show in the Queen City during COVID, honey,” Winfrey said. “Everybody on the set having to be masked up, double-masked up, wearing masks and shields. So, we were welcomed to the Queen City with such open arms from the beginning.”
“Delilah” brings Charlotte to the forefront on March 9.
The latest Oprah Winfrey Network drama series began filming in Charlotte late last year, with local connections ranging from Charlotte City Council member Braxton Winston working as a member of the crew to Charlotte native Martin Damien Wilkins assisting executive producer and York, South Carolina native Charles Randolph-Wright. On screen, the series includes Gastonia native Maria Howell.
“I’m just glad that through COVID-19, my industry has found its way to make it safe for us,” said Howell, who sings and acts.
The series released a 55-second trailer on Feb. 3, teasing the work of “Greenleaf” creator Craig Wright, who also serves as executive producer along with Winfrey and Randolph-Wright on “Delilah.” It follows the journey of Delilah Connolly (Maahra Hill), who balances life as an attorney and single mother. While she loves to fight for the underdog, Connolly had to leave her corporate law firm years ago in order to do so. Now she faces the decision of taking a case that would pit her against her best friend, Tamara Grayson (Jill Marie Jones).
As Jones’ character says, “we’ve made it 20 years without going up against each other in court, let’s not do it now,” the audience sees a somber group gathered around a table signing papers. Howell, who sits at the head of the table, previously auditioned for “Greeleaf,” but “Delilah” marks her OWN debut in the role of Judge Adora Morrison.
“I love the role I play,” Howell said.
As the name implies, Howell’s character is a commanding presence. She only has to channel her real-life role as the oldest of six siblings to get into character.
“I’ve been conditioned to be authoritative—as my siblings would probably call it, bossy,” Howell said. “I tend to call it authoritative. I have that demeanor already as an organizer—a manager of people. So that wasn’t a far stretch. I turned it up a little bit, though.”
Howell considers herself fortunate that the project was done during her time on the East Coast. Production includes daily COVID-19 testing. Howell said the precautions in place make her feel safe, and she knows that she has to keep herself safe away from the set in order to be ready to go when it is her time.
North Carolina offers producers financial rebates of up to 25% on qualified movie and television show expenses. A TV series must average an in-state spend of $1 million or more per episode to qualify. Per NC Commerce, grants will not exceed $12 million per season. Tax incentives were reinstated under current Gov. Roy Cooper.
“Being able to do something in this area, knowing that projects are coming back to the North Carolina and Charlotte area specifically, I’m completely excited,” Howell said. “I was also excited to learn that a couple of cast members in the actual episode I appeared in are friends of mine and I didn’t know they were in the show at first, and the director is originally from York, South Carolina. There are a few other surprises I won’t spill, but it is really nice to have the project here.”
Foundation For The Carolinas and Charlotte Center City Partners will co-host a March 2 virtual viewing of the premiere episode of “Delilah,” an Oprah Winfrey Network drama series that was set and filmed in Charlotte.
“Delilah” stars Maahra Hill as Delilah Connolly, a headstrong lawyer living in Charlotte. Series creator Craig Wright serves as executive producer along with Charles Randolph-Wright — a native of York, South Carolina — and Oprah Winfrey.
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share ‘Delilah’ with the beautiful city of Charlotte, and I am extremely proud to call this wonderful community my home,” said Randolph-Wright. “Imagine … a television premiere … in Charlotte … of a show that actually takes place here. I can’t stop smiling. Thank you, Queen City!”
Hill and Randolph-Wright will participate in a roundtable discussion following the episode. The roundtable will also feature President of Tepper Sports & Entertainment Tom Glick and Charlotte City Council Member Braxton Winston to discuss the economic impact of filming in Charlotte.
The program runs from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on March 2. Click here to register.
The show also stars Jill Marie Jones (“Girlfriends”) as Tamara Grayson, Delilah’s confidante and best friend; Susan Heyward (“Orange is the New Black”), who portrays Demetria Barnes, Delilah’s newly hired associate; and Ozioma Akagha (Marvel’s “Runaways”) as Delilah’s secretary, Harper Conant.
“Delilah” premieres on Tuesday, March 9, at 9 p.m. on OWN. Watch the trailer here.
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