Aja Naomi King Discusses ‘Lessons in Chemistry’: Narrating the Tale of L.A.’s Sugar Hill Neighborhood

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In the Apple TV+ adaptation of Bonnie Garmus’ novel “Lessons in Chemistry,” the character of Harriet Sloane, originally a middle-aged white woman, undergoes a significant transformation with the casting of Aja Naomi King. The series reimagines Sloane as a middle-class Black woman in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Sugar Hill in 1950s L.A. The show explores racial dynamics, the destruction of the Sugar Hill community due to a freeway project, and the friendship between Sloane and Elizabeth Zott, portrayed by Brie Larson.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Aja Naomi King discussed her initial surprise when offered the role of Harriet Sloane, considering she had auditioned for a different part. She was intrigued by the reimagined story, especially the focus on Sugar Hill’s plight and Sloane’s activism against the destruction of her community by the Highway Commission. King appreciated the depth given to Sloane’s character, delving into her experiences as a Black woman during that era, her motherhood, marriage, and friendship with Elizabeth.

King elaborated on the historical context of the Sugar Hill neighborhood, explaining how affluent Black individuals began moving in during the ’40s and ’50s, making it a thriving center for the Black elite. She highlighted the storyline’s plausibility, showcasing Calvin and Elizabeth’s presence in the neighborhood and the basis for their friendship.

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The series explores racial discrimination through honest conversations between characters. King emphasized the importance of depicting allyship and addressing blind spots in understanding discrimination. She praised the show for authentically honoring the experiences of people in that community.

Regarding her collaboration with Brie Larson, who was deeply involved in the project, King mentioned the respect and agency Larson provided her in shaping Harriet’s character. She expressed gratitude for the supportive and empowering atmosphere on set, attributing it to the female-led production team’s understanding of the stories they were telling.

King shared her enthusiasm for the project and regret over the delay in promoting it due to the actors’ strike. Despite the delay, she felt immensely proud of the series and longed to share it with the audience.

Reflecting on her previous project, “Sylvie’s Love,” King appreciated the opportunity to play varied characters but emphasized the depth and richness of Harriet’s character, considering her a significant and profound role in her career.

Overall, Aja Naomi King expressed immense passion for her role as Harriet Sloane in “Lessons in Chemistry,” celebrating the series’ portrayal of racial dynamics and the empowerment of its characters.