The Oprah Winfrey Network’s(OWN) much anticipated nighttime drama, “Delilah,” aired Tuesday, March 9 at 9 p.m. EST. Maahra Hill (“Black-ish,” “How to Get Away With Murder”) stars as Delilah Connolly, a headstrong, highly principled lawyer living in Charlotte, North Carolina. Delilah is doing her best to raise two kids alone and keep her ties to family, friends and faith strong, all while ceaselessly seeking justice for those who need it most, in a time when the rich and powerful of Charlotte and beyond will do anything to stop her. Jill Marie Jones (“Girlfriends”) appears as Tamara Roberts, Delilah’s confidante and best friend; Susan Heyward (“Orange is the New Black”), portrays Demetria Barnes, Delilah’s newly hired, fearless, and ambitious associate; and Ozioma Akagha (Marvel’s “Runaways”), plays Delilah’s unfailingly sunny secretary, Harper Omereoha. In a recurring role, Lyriq Bent stars as Gordon, Delilah’s ex-husband.
Filmed in Charlotte, NC, the series is produced by Warner Bros. Television and Harpo Films and executive produced by Craig Wright, Charles Randolph-Wright, and Oprah Winfrey.
A Chicago native, Maahra Hill says Delilah is a familiar character to her. “The sacrifice she makes for parenthood, commitment she has to the community, giving a voice to the voiceless and the relationship she has with her ex feels like home to me, says the actress. “There are ways she’s completely different and much more courageous than I am. She’s more of a risk taker than I am,” Hill adds. The actress prepared for the crusader by reaching out to a couple of African-American women lawyers in Charlotte in order to bring “authenticity” to the role. “My goal is to shine a light on an everyday real experience; to make sure it’s reality, it’s authentic,” adds Hill.
One of the ways the creators brought authenticity to the show was by casting and hiring local talent and crew from Charlotte. “Local actors along with the local crew bring their input into their performances,” says executive producer Craig Wright. That includes everything from where to get things you want or need in the city and even the character’s accents. Kelly Jacobs, the actress who plays Delilah’s daughter Maia is from Charlotte. “This is a real girl from Charlotte playing the hell out of her violin and going to work in a town where she’s from,” says Wright. “Even though this is a fictional, scripted genre, the more we can shrink that divide between the viewers and the viewed and make it one big percolating conversation, the better,” he adds.
The location gave them an opportunity to cast and shoot locally in addition to providing a rich background for the setting in a city known for its Black achievement and leadership during the civil rights movement. In recent years, the “Queen City” named for Queen Charlotte, has been at the center of social justice activism because of the 2013 police killing of Jonathan Ferrell, 24, an unarmed Black man seeking help following a car accident; the 2013 killing of Keith Lamont Scott, 43, an unarmed man who was shot and killed while reading a book while waiting for his son to get home from school on the school bus; and the 2015 killing of Jonisha Fonville, 20, who was shot and killed while experiencing an episode caused by mental illness. The Queen City was the perfect place for the story of this dynamic character of Delilah and her pursuit of justice for those who need it the most– the historically disenfranchised. The creators and writers hist the ground running writing the entire season before shooting began.
And then there was COVID and more social justice activism around the killing of George Floyd. As was the case with other productions, COVID-19 impacted production, necessitating some changes in when to film, how to film and the best way to tell the stories. George Floyd’s killing impacted the stories that were told.
“Shooting during the pandemic makes you find a completely new way of working. Because of this team led by Maarah and Jill Marie Jones, we were able to make it happen,” says executive producer Charles Randolph-Wright. “The challenge for us was to find a new way to work amid all of the things happening including the pandemic and the election. It was lot to manage but we did it,” he adds.
“Oprah is a big fan of intention,” says Craig Wright. “We had an entirely different season planned and had written quite a bit of it when George Floyd was murdered. Because our story was so close to that, we stopped and rewrote the entire story and centered it around the female friendship around Delilah. We changed everything because it forced the show to become more unique.”” he added.
Delilah airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. EST on OWN. Check local listings for channel information.
This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.