akils

Being Mary Jane star Gabrielle Union interviewed her bosses Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil for The Hollywood Reporter. In the interview they covered what inspired the show, turning it from a tv movie to a series, and if they write specifically for a Black audience.

Check out a few quotables from the interview:

What inspired you to create the character of Mary Jane?
Mara Brook Akil: When I was working on [the sitcom] Girlfriends, I felt like I needed another place to express what it really felt like to be a modern woman. Then — this makes me sound like a crazy person — the character of Mary Jane would visit me. The first image I had was her walking around in a beautiful house and Post-Its were all over the place. I never thought that the show would get made, so I kept little notes for myself, then started to write honestly and with abandon. When we got our BET deal, they asked, “What’s your passion project?”

Salim [Akil] said, “Baby, tell ’em your idea.” I’d kept it to myself because I didn’t want anybody to f— it up. But they said yes, and here we are.

How much of the show is based on real people and events?
Salim Akil: Mara had this character walking around in her head, but it’s really her in a lot of ways. The perfection. The Post-It notes. We try to pull from real life because when you manufacture things, they come off as false. I would say most of the characters are [based on] real people. They just don’t know who they are.

Mara: It’s about combing through a lot of life. We’re all trying to find the right connection, the right mate. We are stuck. The show is a conversation about why we aren’t connecting. That’s how the character of David came about.

Salim: David also came about because of your ex.

Mara: (Laughs.) Yes. He’ll love hearing that! [Storylines] like Mary Jane taking care of her mother and drugs being in everybody’s family some way are very relatable.

“First Sanford and Son, then Amen and now this!” (Laughs.) Do you intentionally write Mary Jane for a black audience?

Mara: I believe in approaching writing through the specific; the details of a particular culture. So, yes, black people are going to recognize themselves first, and they’re going to be the first ones to validate it. “Yep, you got that right.” There’s an authenticity. That said, most artists want to say [with their work] how we are all more connected than we are different. A lot of people tell us, “I’m Mary Jane, too.”

Salim: It’s a popular thing now in TV to say, “This character happens to be black.” But one thing I’ve always admired about our approach is that we actually do black on purpose. We’re not shy about saying that.

In this allegedly post racial world, it’s a brave and unique move to say they are doing Black on purpose. Many times you hear modern day entertainers saying they don’t want to be the “best” Black singer/athlete/actress/writers. They just want to be the best, but without the identifier. What do you think about the Akils proudly admitting that they write for and with Black folks in mind?

Check out a video of the interview below.

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  • Brad

    “But one thing I’ve always admired about our approach is that we actually do black on purpose. We’re not shy about saying that.”

    …and it is paying off for them and that is a good thing…

  • Objection

    It’s a popular thing now in TV to say, “This character happens to be black.” But one thing I’ve always admired about our approach is that we actually do black on purpose. We’re not shy about saying that.

    I think it’s a dangerous move. It puts African-Americans (AA) in a box. What happens when an AA woman doesn’t relate to the character Mary Jane (MJ)? What percentage of AA women are the opposite of MJ? The statement above feeds into stereotypes of AA. MJ is a fictional character that happens to be AA.

    • Anthony

      @Objection, what should happen is that a network like BET should simply create more shows so different black women can see themselves in different characters.

    • Brad

      “MJ is a fictional character that happens to be AA.”

      Since she is the creater and writer of the character MJ, she is the one that gets to determine if her character is a Black Woman or a Woman that just happens to be black.

      When Mary Jane’s father (Richard Roundtree) laid down with her mother (Margaret Avery), they wasn’t planning on having no babby that just “happen” to be black. They were expecting to produce a black child period.

      “What happens when an AA woman doesn’t relate to the character Mary Jane (MJ)?”

      That is simply on that AA woman to care about. We all watch countless amount of tv shows and movies where we may or may not relate to the characters, black or white.

  • MommieDearest

    I like that they are unabashedly acknowledging that they write black characters. I’m not a fan of BMJ, but from the few episodes I saw, the characters were varied and complex; like people are in real life. There were also a few things about the show that I related to specifically as a black woman. I would definitely take a look at any future shows that they create.

    I think in general that we (black people) don’t have to be apologetic about who we are (Oh, I’m a [fill in the blank- ballet dancer, software engineer, carpenter…] who just happens to be black.), and just BE. I am not a woman who just HAPPENS to be black. I am a woman. I am black. BOTH entities are valid. I am a woman who is black. I am a black woman. For me, one doesn’t take away from or overshadow the other. They just ARE. I just AM. IMO, the use of the qualifier “happens to be black” implies that the “black” part is by accident, or is not the “norm” or “default.” That it is somehow “less than” and not what is expected.

    • Brad

      My oldest said they have watch parties at FAMU’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communications.

      You just can’t tell half of those young woman majoring in Broadcast Journalism that they won’t be living the Mary Jane life in 10 years ;-)

  • Objection

    @ Anthony

    That will properly never happen. Too many people at BET lack diversity of thought.

  • Objection

    @ Brad

    Remember your words the next time a reality TV show come out displaying African-American women acting ignorant.

    • Brad

      @Objection

      But, Mary Jane or the other Black or Hispanic woman on that show are hardly acting like a reality tv star. The characters on Being Mary Jane have far more layers and depth than any of those realty tv stars.

      I haven’t seen anything that overtly ignorant behavior on Being Mary Jane. Real, flawed, human, in some cases down right wrong but, nothing rachett and ignorant really.