Posts Tagged ‘Gabrielle Union’

Being Mara Brock Akil

June 26, 2013
Mara talking about what it takes to be a creative warrior.

Mara talking about what it takes to be a creative warrior.

Earlier this month, I attended the New York screening of Being Mary Jane, the latest project from accomplished show creator, screenwriter and producer Mara Brock Akil. You may know her name from the credits of the shows she created: Girlfriends, now a cult classic and a history-making show that ran for 8 seasons; and The Game, another history-making series that garnered 7.7 million viewers on its premiere night when it was reborn on BET—the most viewers for a sitcom premiere in cable history. She also wrote the remake of Sparkle, where Mike Epps delivered his breakout dramatic performance, and was sadly the last film role for the late Whitney Houston.

With the woman behind the film and dramatic series.

With the woman behind the film and dramatic series.

I held on to this piece because I needed time to process everything she shared during the talkback interview she conducted with another Mara, news anchor Mara Schiavocampo. Brock Akil’s remarks were so rich and at times so raw and emotional. Totally understandable given that she has lived with the Mary Jane character since her days of executive producing Girlfriends. To finally have that vision realized and experienced by audiences is clearly moving her deeply. I also waited to pen and post because she was really adamant about leaving those in attendance with the directive to get viewers: “from a production value standpoint, this kind of creativity is expensive. If you want to see more of this [kind of work on TV], you have to show up on premiere night—and not watch on your phone later.” So mark your calendars now to VIEW LIVE—not just DVR the film when it premieres on BET on Tuesday, July 2 at 10:30pm EST, right after the return of her other series, The Game.

Yeah…let that marinate for a sec.

A Black woman show creator/writer/producer has two programs premiering back to back on July 2.

She and Shonda Rimes are the only two African American woman writer/EPs with more than one show on at a time on any network. Brock Akil credited her telecast partner and its Chairman & CEO, Debra Lee on that night. “After we got 7.7 million viewers with The Game, my phone was ringing off the hook with people asking, ‘how’d you do it?’ We did it because BET believed. It goes back to marketing dollars; after 8 years of Girlfriends and 3 years of The Game on the CW, those shows got no marketing campaigns,” she recalled. “I was offering to run off my own fliers to pass out at clubs.”

Marketing matters. And when done well, it works. BMJ goodies on display.

Marketing matters. And when done well, it works. BMJ goodies on display.

It was also at BET that she got what she calls her “dream meeting”: the meeting that she noted “all the white boys get where the executives ask you what your passion project is.”

Brock Akil took that meeting with Original Programming President Loretha Jones, and when asked, Brock Akil’s answer was Being Mary Jane. No network is perfect, but what Brock Akil revealed with this information was how important it is for networks by and about people of color to exist—and thrive. In a Hollywood where she’d had two proven sitcom hits and even sold a screenplay, it was only a network that reflected her identity and understood her vision that presented her with the opportunity routinely afforded her white male counterparts. In this meeting, there was no “Negro 101” to wade through to determine whether the concept was viable or sellable with this network. They got it. And all any creative wants is to be gotten, so the audiences they serve can be seen, heard, known in all their complexity.

Brock Akil connects with author and mental health advocate Terrie Williams at the screening.

Brock Akil connects with author and mental health advocate Terrie Williams at the screening.

“I want to say that Black women and families are HUMAN with Being Mary Jane,” Brock Akil said. “I just want someone to fight for us; to fight for Black women.” Brock Akil is fighting the good fight. With this film, she packs a mean combination. Mary Jane Paul is both hero and nemesis; at work and in love, she alternates between saving the day and getting in her own way. Mary Jane adores her family, but like all of us, can’t stand some of the choices they make or ways they behave. Dynamic roles like these rarely come to women of color, and are written by them even less often. The result is usually some fragmented hologram of a “sista” with canned, tired dialogue, or a character that we only see in one context/environment because her character is peripheral, or a completely stereotypical caricature emerges.

Thankfully, none of the aforementioned can be found in this film. Gabrielle Union is perfectly cast as the woman who has to be “on” at all times in the world, but in her private moments, nothing clicks the way she wants it to. The dialogue is strong, snarky, and decidedly grown; no over-the-top attempts at hipness here. While honest exchange and deep reflection drive this drama, it definitely has moments that are shocking and funny. Thanks to laser-like scripting and nuanced acting from Lisa Vidal, Omari Hardwick, Stephen Bishop and Robinne Lee, there are several standout scenes. Won’t spoil them here. I will say that the ending is completely unexpected and sets things up well for the 2014 premiere of its spinoff series.

Toward the end of the Q&A, Mara went beyond being personable and got intimate. I was intrigued by her answers for how she manages to having a husband, family, and birthing her creative babies. Many of my readers know that in my book I asserted that work-life balance is a myth—long before women were being asked to lean in or lean out. What we need to strive for is work-life function, so we can be fully present in all of life’s moments, without being guilt-riddled or distracted from the business at hand; without compromising on self-care. Brock Akil affirmed my assertion during her talkback session with some incredible comments. She dropped a few jaws with these gems:

Speaking about her husband, Being Mary Jane director Salim Akil:

“I am very fortunate that I get to do what I love with whom I love. It’s also how we manage to see each other (laughs).”

“I have a lot of sex. Because sometimes, you think you need a massage, when really, all you needed was some…you know.”

“Black women need and deserve to be cherished; that is the role of a man.”

On drawing the line for family time:

“On the weekends, I am a mother.”

Hold it–before you go side-eyeing about how she’s only there for her kids two days a week: I take this to mean that she is a mother all the time, but that her work cannot intrude on that role during weekends. Mara Brock Akil is not ‘bout that Always At Work life. She actually does take time off from work each week. She relayed an anecdote about concerning a neighbor as she had a prolonged business conversation from her cell in her driveway, because she literally didn’t want to bring it to the threshold of her home. These boundaries matter, and if you want to be married to something other than a career, or want to raise a human being, the boundaries must be set, even if they change as you grow.

Gabrielle is gorgeous, as usual. Watch it on premiere night...for Mara!

Gabrielle is gorgeous, as usual. Watch it on premiere night…for Mara!

Here’s the takeaway: on BET next Tuesday, July 2nd at 10:30 EST, you have the opportunity to be highly entertained while you make a dream come alive for brilliant, fabulous and hardworking woman. Her dream is actually to create for a vision of Black women who are more fully realized onscreen, without making one Black woman the model for all of us. By taking that opportunity, you make that dream real in a world that has us all pegged. While it may not be a dream you share, this is absolutely a dream worth putting first.

Your feedback is welcome in the comments below or on Twitter directly to me here. Are you a fan of Mara? Are you excited about Being Mary Jane? Talk to me.

Follow Mara Brock Akil here.

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Top 5 Reasons To Pay To See Think Like A Man (No Spoiler)

April 17, 2012

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I attended the New York premiere of Think Like A Man (Screen Gems) earlier this month. I’ve been processing the film on many levels: as a woman in a committed relationship (I just celebrated 15 years of marriage to this comedian named Tmor on April 13); as a filmmaker and creative producer of color (yes–the ‘of color’ part matters), and as a consumer who loves a great moviegoing experience.

I’m not one to rave about films; I have my jaded insider moments just like most entertainment industry insiders. Because I know what’s possible from a creative standpoint, my expectations are high–and because I know the limitations Hollywood places on creativity, those expectations are rarely met, let alone exceeded. I’m usually left wanting more in terms of cast, script, story, or all of the above. But as a smart, sexy comedy, Think Like A Man garners a rave from me.

This film appealed to all three moviegoing sides of me. This surprised me to a degree because before I knew who was involved behind the scenes, I associated this film primarily with comedian and radio host Steve Harvey, since the film is based upon his book Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man. And since I didn’t read the book (see note above about being married already), don’t listen to his radio show (I commute by subway to my playlists; it’s not personal) and haven’t watched anything with him in it since Kings of Comedy, I was ready to wait and see what my non-industry family members thought before I laid money down for the film.

Then, and here comes the disclosure–I found out that James Lopez, a brilliant marketer and longtime friend from my music business days, was a senior production executive on the project. And how’s this for a small world, HY[e]B connection: the very first record he promoted to me was “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)” by MeShell Ndegeocello, who, years later, agreed to appear in my book. Of course I had to support James, who kept it real whether he had hits or misses on the roster. As time went on, he had more hits than misses as a marketing VP over at Atlantic Records, where he took T.I. from King of the South to King of the Rap World–no easy task with the star in and out of custody through much of his career. But this is my reason, not one of my Top 5 reasons for you. Here they are:

1. You will love this movie whether you love or hate Steve Harvey. 

I didn’t need to read the book to understand or enjoy this film. Writers Keith Merryman and David A. Newman do an incredible job of crafting completely fictional characters based on advice from the non-fiction book’s pages.

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Bonus: if you’re not big on Steve, he appears once to set up how Gabrielle Union’s character learns of the book, and a couple times via confessional afterward–and then he’s gone. One character is even a Steve Harvey hater, so the elephant in the room is identified for those of you who may feel the same.

2. This is not a chick flick!

As a self-defined type A womanist, I don’t get into romantic comedies where the woman’s whole life is wrapped up in finding, keeping, or stressing over some douchebag who doesn’t know she exists, or some guy who’s already taken. Worse still are the chick flicks where said woman will do anything to quell her desperation, including cash in her self-esteem, kick family and friends to the curb, and of course–get sleazy or naked for no (or any) reason. None of the aforementioned insulting, corny circumstances are present in this film.

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The women of Think Like A Man have intelligent conversations with other women, respect themselves and their families, and remain clothed without losing their sex appeal, all while remaining attractive to their love interests and getting intimate on their own terms (gasp!).

3. The movie is not just funny, it’s actually fun to watch.

Kevin Hart may be the comedic genius who injects hilarity throughout, but the film is funny in general, even when Hart is off screen. There are plenty of one-liners, stingers, and zingers to go around, not to mention the scenes involving a basketball, a bathroom stall, and a folding chair.

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The funny isn’t dependent upon pratfalls, either. There is great, nuanced humor when these characters open up to one another, confront each other with the cold hard truth, or don’t get their way. Bonus: Comedienne on the rise and my Bay Area homegirl Luenell (Bruno) makes a cameo.

4. Finally: a cast that reflects the reality of America!

This film has a predominantly Black cast, but so? And? It’s 2012. Get over it. These characters are every adult in the pursuit of a relationship that works. There are white people in this film, but they are not tokens. Think Like A Man does not practice the tokenism with which so many Hollywood movies patronize their audiences.

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In the crew of guys, there are not one but two members of the Dominant Group. Neither of them try to be Black, be ‘street’, or be ‘down’. Both of them are comfortable in their own skin, and can dish it out as well as they can take it from the rest of the guys.

This cast is pure eye candy for men and women. This is no rom-com with some dumpy funny dude or nondescript whining girl carrying the film. These people are gorgeous, sexy, charming, burning-up-the-screen hot. Romany Malco is shirtless for an extended period, thank you very much. Michael Ealy is well…Michael Ealy, all foine everything.

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Meagan Good gives good shape in every scene. Regina Hall is radiant, albeit reserved as the single mom dating Terrence J’s “Mama’s boy” character. Taraji is stunning as the uptight media exec, and screen time from Kelly Rowland, Lala Anthony and Morris Chestnut only add to the fly factor.

Furthermore, there is an interracial relationship, well played by Union and Ferrara. Yes, these happen in America. And they are not always with burning crosses or police tape in the background. See: (biracial) President Barack Obama. No one cracks a joke or bats an eye at this. It is accepted, and neither character has their identity questioned or compromised because of who they love–so we can just follow their story line instead of having to unpack baggage that really deserves its own film. Awesome. Bonus: people of color are not sprinkled throughout this film as window dressing, service professionals, or quirky and exotic extras. They are multi-dimensional and front and center.

5. The Shot Callers behind the scenes: Packer, Story, and Culpepper

Think Like A Man has a two strong, sensitive (cinematically speaking) African American creatives running the show in producer Will Packer (Takers, Obsessed, Stomp The YardThis Christmas) and director Tim Story (Fantastic Four, Hurricane Season, Barbershop). Packer and Story don’t play Black women out with this film; they also don’t let Black men off the hook. Their crew delivers top-notch production value with great shots, great light (a VERY BIG deal for people of color on screen), hair, makeup and wardrobe, well placed music, and seamless production design. In Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper, the film has a studio head who gets it–and gets out of the way, trusting–and knowing based upon their track records and choices that Packer, Story, (and the aforementioned Lopez) will do their thing. The beneficiaries are the actors and the audience. You can tell the cast felt at ease and free to just perform; the chemistry between couples is undeniable. And even the premiere audience of insiders, celebrities, and their plus-ones let loose in the theater.

So fellas: you are not surrendering your Man Card by seeing this film. And ladies, you are not owning the rom-com stereotypes that have plagued you in the past by seeing this film. Do not pass go, and do not buy bootleg. During the weekend of April 20, pay to see Think Like A Man, so more films that reflect honest portrayals of relationships will get made and win at the box office.