“The Godfather of Harlem”: An Ambitious Prequel To ‘American Gangster’ That Does Not Reach The Level Of The Film

A decade ago, Ridley Scott immersed us in the Harlem organized crime universe of the seventies and gangster wars in his movie “American Gangster”.


So there we saw how Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) succeeded Bumpy Johnson as the head of the criminal organization Twelve years later we return to the neighborhood with ‘ The Godfather of Harlem ‘. A series that arrives at HBO Spain (originally from EPIX) that goes back a few years in time. So as to explore long and hard (well, for ten episodes) the history of Bumpy Johnson, played on this occasion by Forest Whitaker.

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We are in 1963 and Johnson has just left Alcatraz after a long season. As soon as you arrive you will see that you have work to do. The Genoese (Guineas), headed by Chin Gigante (Vincent D’Onofrio) is taking away the ground. So the two bands are approaching a great war in the middle of the rights struggle civilians. A broad perspective of the criminal Harlem


Like the series ‘ Boardwalk Empire ‘ and ‘ Los Soprano ‘, ‘The Godfather of Harlem’ is not so much about the criminal warps of the Johnson band. But it is of the place of acting as a character and as the crossroads between personalities social, political and criminal.

That is, at least, the intention of its writers. Chris Brancato and Paul Eckstein present a melting pot of dreams, of toys broken by drugs, of impossible loves and a global look at the pressure cooker. The New York neighborhood in the sixties is clearly seen in the choice of the moment to portray the life of Bumpy Johnson

The neighborhood did change after a decade of absence. Bumpy must learn to live with two of the most important political actors in the struggle for the civil rights of the African-American population. Minister Malcolm X (Nigél Thatch) and Adam Powell (Giancarlo Espósito), who seek the same end but different methods.

Then, this hodgepodge of events and people of such a different character makes ‘The Godfather of Harlem’. It navigates without a firm helmsman in the world that the scriptwriters Propose. It is not that Forest Whitaker does not have a great presence and charisma as calm as aggressive. So as to move through this Harlem sixties,

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The series wants to play too many sticks to work as well as it should. In general, there is a kind of misunderstanding ambition based on the harmful premise. It is that the more ground the better fiction encompasses. This causes both character development to get neglect (D’Onofrio is wasted and, moreover, seems somewhat caricatured) as a great plot.

It is a shame because of the great cast that the series has does not finish giving everything it could give in a crime drama. It also does not know very well what it is telling. That is really the main problem of a series, on the other hand, it is good entertainment.

The feeling did leave by ‘The Godfather of Harlem’ is that it would be much better with a couple of tweaks. It is a good drama, entertaining, with a great cast. But it lacks (in the sense of powerful) in the plot harms him.

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