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Bernard Smalls for OWN

Bernard Smalls for OWN

Tonight OWN will debut a new evening drama that’s sure to have folks talking, especially church folks. Greenleaf is no Tyler Perry-esque, overly dramatized depiction of religious life, though the series is set against the backdrop of the Black church, a megachurch to be specific. Keith David stars as Bishop Greenleaf alongside a biting Lynn Whitfield as Lady Mae Greenleaf, a First Lady you’ve never seen before on prime time, and then there’s Merle Dandridge who plays the part of Grace Greenleaf, the prodigal daughter whose quest to right past wrongs may destroy everything her parents have built in the years since she’s been away. And did I mention Oprah? The woman whose talent in making this show a reality should be appreciated both on-screen and off?

“This marks a new day for me in producing scripted television and I’m really, really excited to have the platform of the African American church because I grew up in the church,” Oprah said speaking at a special screening of the new series in New York City this past April. “With all that that means to me I think it’s such a magnificent platform to be able to share really great storytelling,” added the Executive Producer who’ll also play the role of Mavis McCready, Lady Mae’s sister.

But as anyone who grew up in the Black church like Oprah knows, often stories are swept under the rug rather than dealt with head on. But Greenleaf does just that, tackling issues of infidelity, molestation, suicide, misappropriation of funds, homosexuality, and abuse of of power.

“The church is massively important but does that mean it can’t be critiqued?” Executive Producer Craig Wright posed in response to concerns from the audience that the show may push a few too many of church folks’ buttons. “No,” he said, answering his own question. “It has to be critiqued with respect.”

And it’s not only the scandals that make the new series enticing, Greenleaf also speaks to the power of redemption, forgiveness, the familial bond, and most of all love of the Lord.

“It’s got to be about how people of faith carry themselves through the desert,” Wright added.

And what’s more universal than that, Whitfield pointed out. “Everybody gets off track sometimes — hence the drama and the juice — but everybody’s spiritual journey is to make their way back closer to God.”

And that’s really what Greenleaf is about, finding your way and traveling on your own spiritual journey, not condemning others or making blanket judgments about any one person or entity.

“We’re saying that people are people,” David assured. “This is centered around a mega church. We’re not making a statement or using a prototype of any one church or pastor.”

Winfrey, however, is using her platform to make a statement about the African American experience — or rather show another facet of it — she said in further explaining her excitement for this new series and the importance of the diversity of its characters, all of whom are Black.

“The way you break down barriers in a society that doesn’t see you as human is show your humanity,” she said of the tenderness with which Greenleaf will tackle the aforementioned topics. “There isn’t just one way to be Black.”

Check out the trailer for Greenleaf which will launch with a two-night premiere tonight at 10 pm on OWN and Wednesday night at 9 pm and 10 pm.

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