A powerhouse in the TV industry, Mara Brock Akil, who created, wrote and executive produced Girlfriends, The Game and Being Mary Jane, added a new role -- director -- to her showrunning duties to tell her and her husband (also co-creator) Salim Akil’s love story on the new OWN series Love Is__.
Believing in love is one thing, but professing it after a coffee date and then rising up through the ranks in Hollywood as a power couple is a true testament to the old adage: love conquers all. “We spent four hours together that night and spent four hours talking. I guess I was brave enough and he was brave enough to say that we love each other and honor that,” Mara tells ET of her whirlwind romance with Salim.
Drawn from their relationship journey, the show is set primarily in Los Angeles in the ‘90s. Nuri (Michele Weaver) is a writer on a black sitcom, and Yasir (Will Catlett) is a struggling filmmaker. Despite their economic differences, the couple comes together to chase their dreams and learn how to follow their hearts. “We are able to answer what it looks like when you find someone and what did I see and how we recognized each other. We spent a lot of time on those details, and those are very significant steps,” Mara explains. “The first season is about courtship. Courtship is a very delicate balance; you don’t have a lot invested yet and you can walk away. We kept choosing to stay together even when a lot of people didn’t understand why -- especially for me, my side of the story. When someone who was so successful, people kept asking, ‘Why are you dating this broke dude?’ Well, let me tell you why.”
The television memoir is told from the perspective of the couple’s present-day selves (Wendy Davis and Clarke Peters) with flashbacks to the past, reflecting on how the culture and social issues of the ‘90s shaped the couple they ultimately became while balancing successful careers and a family.
“It’s a love story about two dreamers who decide to build a life together on the backdrop of black Hollywood. It’s not only about how to find love, but how to keep love following their dreams and how to build those dreams together side by side,” Mara says.
While this is not Mara’s first time creating a series, Love Is__ did give her the opportunity to step behind the camera. Salim was originally slated to direct the pilot episode, but a scheduling conflict with The CW’s Black Lightning, which he created and which Mara serves as executive producer on, forced him to pull out. When that happened, Mara knew she had to step in. Her longtime desire to direct coupled with her experience producing more than 300 episodes of TV gave her the chance to craft her love story the way she wanted it to be portrayed. “It’s such a very dear story to me and I wanted to get it right,” she says.
“I have learned from one of the best. I am very prepared and capable. I directed the pilot and the finale. It’s been a really great experience for me,” says Mara, who handled the episodes like a pro, as can be seen in moments like the tight close-ups of Nuri and Yasir holding hands. “In the details, I needed people to understand what those nuances were, to show those layers and the nuances, because that’s what we in real life are responding to,” she explains. “I love holding Salim’s hand, and I was like, I’m definitely going to put hands in this. The show has touch. It has connectivity.”
While she pulled through directing the episode, the experience wasn’t without pressure or the kind of self-doubt that’s compounded by being a black woman. “I think that we, as black women, always feel like we have to be 10 times better to get there, and it needs to be perfect. No, you don’t need to be perfect.” Instead, she says, “you need to be good, you need to be hardworking and you need to know your shit.”
Ultimately, Mara hopes viewers find that there’s no one way to define love -- hence the title of the series. “There is no one blueprint. I think people are looking for one answer so they can apply it so they can be successful. Yes, love is achievable, dreams are achievable, but to get there you have to define it for yourself. That’s what Salim and I did. We defined it for ourselves.”
Love Is__ premieres Tuesday, June 19, at 10 p.m. ET on OWN.