Who’s That Girl? 3 Facts You Didn’t Know About ‘Being Mary Jane’ Creator Mara Brock Akil
Writer and producer executive Mara Brock Akil rocked television networks’ boat with her story of black successful female friends, Girlfriends. The show became a favorite of black women who loved seeing their narratives play out on national television. After the CW network canceled Girlfriends, Akil moved onto her iconic show The Game. Modeled after the lives of professional football players, the show became an immediate success with fans. So much so that fans petitioned networks to bring it back after it, too, was canceled. Since returning to television The Game is still on a winning streak.
But Akil has a new baby on her hands and it’s the coolest kid on the television playground. Being Mary Jane starring Gabrielle Union, reaches on average of over 2.5 million viewers (more than the HBO hit show Girls).
BloombergBusinessWeek profiled Akil about her life and work. And here are three things you may not know about the woman who has created some of your favorite television shows.
She sees herself in the ladies of Girlfriends
Raised in Kansas City, Mo., and educated at Northwestern University, Brock Akil began her career in the writers’ rooms of UPN’s Moesha and WB’s The Jamie Foxx Show…
Girlfriends ran for eight seasons; when the CW canceled it, Brock Akil and her infuriated fans were powerless. “Girlfriends was my first expression in the medium, my full voice, and it allowed me to document myself,” she says. “It was: I’m here, I deserve to be here, and I’m entitled to it.”
She orchestrated a social media campaign to “Save the Game”
“Whenever a new network starts, they typically start with a black audience, then dump them once they get ratings and bring the other programming on,” Brock Akil says. But this was 2009, and the black fans who’d clogged phone lines in 2006 had grown into a powerful force on social media. So Brock Akil savvily coordinated a massive social media campaign. A “Save The Game” YouTube (GOOG) video featuring all her show’s stars implored fans to complain on their Facebook and Twitter accounts and CW’s message boards.“Before, the studio held the narrative,” Brock Akil says. “I heard that when Girlfriends got canceled, the fans broke the phone system. The mail was overwhelming. UPN or the CW didn’t have to report that the fans broke the phones! With social media, it was all out there.”
Mary Jane is purposely flawed
An earlier generation of black television writers felt a responsibility to provide Cosby-style role models. But realistic imperfection, more often afforded to white male characters than minority women, has become Brock Akil’s signature.“The thing about writing for African American characters is, people think you have to right all the wrongs that were done in the past, and I can’t do that,” she says. “I believe if we keep trying to fix something that’s over, we’re missing out on what is in the moment. If I do that, my art is stale. I’m chasing a ghost.”
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