Creators of the Week: Salim & Mara Brock Akil

Get to know the couple behind The CW’s Black Lightning

By Jaylen Pearson

In a partnership uncommon in Hollywood, Salim and Mara Brock Akil show that collaboration is key to maintaining a relationship. Salim was born in Oakland, California in 1964, while Mara was born in Kansas City in 1970. The two first met on the set of Moesha in 1999, and were married not long after. Since then, they have become one of most influential black power couples in Hollywood. With Salim’s directing talents, and Mara’s writing talents, the duo have been collaborating, and combining their skills to support one another’s art for nearly two decades.

Most (if not all) of their projects are shows that feature majority black casts, as the duo makes a concerted effort to empower and uplift black voices. While most of their work has been good, there are a few projects of theirs that stand out among the many.

The couple first collaborated on Girlfriend’s, which ran from 2000 until 2008. The show explored the lives of four black women as they navigate life’s biggest obstacles. While Mara produced and wrote, Salim would occasionally direct. It was one of the most groundbreaking black shows of its time.

What made Girlfriend’s so good was that it actively worked to tear down stereotypes of black women. Where most shows would continue to portray black women as angry, bitter, and vindictive, Girlfriend’s fleshed out their black women protagonists, and showed that these stereotypes are not true. The series showed that not all black women are the same. It showed that black women are, and can all be, different and unique people. The show did not make black women out to be villains or superheroes. It portrayed them as human beings.

Following Girlfriend’s, the Akil’s produced the spin-off series The Game, which ran from 2006 to 2015. The series followed the lives of pro football players as they attempt to balance their NFL careers with their social and romantic lives. Though it was a sitcom, it explored many real issues, such as steroids usage, athletic injuries, and the struggle between one’s public face and one’s private face. Though The Game went in depth with its portrayal of the cut-throat nature of professional sports, it also gave a considerable amount of screen time and narrative focus to the women who existed in this world, often making them the narrative backbone, and acting as foils to their male leads.

Towards the end of The Game’s run, Mara Brock and Salim Akil began producing fan-favorite Being Mary Jane together. Starring Gabrielle Union as Mary Jane Paul, Being Mary Jane centers around a tv reporter as she attempts to balance her work and personal life.

One of the highlights of the show is it’s portrayal of the African American community. Often, it is easy to tell whether a person of the same background as the group being written about is actually a part of that community, or if they’re writing about something they have not been a part of at all. In the case of Being Mary Jane, it’s very clear that black people are the ones crafting this particular portrayal of the black community. Black people in the series are written accurately, and the issues within, ranging anywhere from social commentary on sexism, to education for profit, to the school to prison pipeline, are treated with the complexity and grace they deserve.

Now, The Akil’s return to The CW with their take on a DC classic, Black Lighting. Following the oft-sidelined hero, Black Lightning (as the title would suggest), the show follows Jefferson Pierce (played by Cress Williams), a high school principal and retired superhero, who is forced back into his role as a hero when his hometown begins to decline. Black Lightning will also feature Anissa Pierce (Nafessa Williams) as Lightning- a major character and the first portrayal of a black lesbian superhero in live-action EVER. Knowing the Akil’s we can expect to see plenty of nuanced, first-hand, commentary alongside some highly-anticipated ass-kicking superheroism. The Akil’s are one of the few creators in Hollywood who are genuinely trying to make uplifting work for black people. Black Lighting is a series that deserves to be watch and these are people that deserve to be supported.

Black Lightning premieres Tuesday, January 16th at 9/8c on The CW

Edited by Ricardo Biramontes

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