‘Godfather of Harlem’ is a crime drama series based on the 1960s gangster Bumpy Johnson (Forest Whitaker). Created by Chris Brancato and Paul Eckstein, the show first premiered in September 2019. It follows the kingpin as he comes back from a decade-long prison sentence only to find his neighborhood in New York City now ruled by the Italian mafia. The brutal battle that ensues threatens the entire city and even pulls in historic human rights figure Malcolm-X.
The brutal gang wars in Harlem are almost legendary and are recreated in the series with great aplomb. If you were wondering how they managed to make the backdrops of this vintage crime drama look so authentic, we might have some answers for you. Here are all the locations where ‘Godfather of Harlem’ is filmed.
Godfather of Harlem Filming Locations
‘Godfather of Harlem’ is filmed in New York City, where the story is based. The series centers around Bumpy Johnson and his turf, for which he fights the Italian mafia after his release from prison. Johnson’s turf was the neighborhood of Harlem in New York City. Hence, part of the filming for the series took place in Harlem. Other neighborhoods that still maintain the visual aesthetics of 1960s New York City were also used for on-location filming. Principal photography for ‘Godfather of Harlem’ season 1 began in September 2018.
New York City, New York
One of the major filming locations for the gritty crime drama is the historic neighborhood of Harlem in Upper Manhattan. The series is filmed extensively in Harlem, particularly in the Sugar Hill National Historic District between West 155th Street and West 145th Street. Sugar Hill became popular amongst wealthy African Americans around the 1920s, resulting in many historic houses and landmarks populating the district. Many of these are used to give ‘Godfather of Harlem’ its signature period look, with the production team taking over multiple blocks of Sugar Hill to film outdoor scenes.
A few houses, like the unnamed elaborate brownstone house on St. Nicholas Avenue between 152nd and 153rd Street, were also used for filming interior scenes. The sites were also extensively “dressed up” to make them resemble the period in which the narrative is set. This was undertaken in Sugar Hill, down to authentic-looking flyers stuck on walls that advertised a James Brown concert at the Apollo Theatre. Incidentally, the singer in real life did have a concert at the Apollo Theatre in 1963, the same period wherein the show is based.
The façade of a shop on the corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and West 147th Street was also changed to make it look like a historic Harlem eatery called 22 West which was frequented by Malcolm X, who is also depicted on the show. Additional filming takes place at Cobble Hill, a neighborhood located in the northwestern part of the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Cobble Hill is known for having one of the finest collections of 19th-century houses in the city, making it the perfect location to film period pieces.
Parts of ‘Godfather of Harlem’ season 2 were also filmed in the neighborhood of Canarsie in southeast Brooklyn. The show’s producers reportedly replaced the Harlem backdrop with Canarsie for some amount of filming. Canarsie in the 1960s was a predominantly Italian American and Jewish neighborhood, making it a fitting addition to the show’s filming locations, considering the protagonist goes head to head with the Italian mafia.