'I want black women’s humanity to be part of the cultural and political landscape,' Akil tells EW of police brutality story line
SPOILER ALERT: The following contains details from “Some Things Are Black and White,” Tuesday’s finale of Being Mary Jane.
Well, it’s official: Mary Jane has slept with a white guy. Though that could have easily been the premise of the entire episode, there were plenty of other OMG-worthy moments during “Some Things Are Black and White.” Take, for instance, the big showdown between Mary Jane and David’s mom, who showed up unannounced to engineer a reconciliation between her son and his ex. It could have been easy to fall back into old habits when Mary Jane learned that David still loves her, but she held strong – even when later in the episode, she decided to break up with her new man. The reason? She still wants black love, something she realized after making interracial dating the subject of a “Talk Back” segment.
The topics of racial loyalties and workplace politics and professionalism played a big part in the evening, particularly when Kara faced the possibility of a workplace harassment complaint from Marisol. And just in case that story line wasn’t enough to set your head spinning, Niecy was pulled over by a police officer and became the victim of some terrifying police brutality. The episode ended with Mary Jane needing to make a choice: Should she make her niece the subject of a #SayHerName movement segment, or should she keep the incident private? The subject of moving forward emotionally and professionally loomed large during the finale, making it the perfect time to ask showrunner Mara Brock Akil to spill details about the finale, reflect on the season to date, and share her thoughts about the show’s future.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We’ve seen Mary Jane and David breakup to makeup many times, but is Mary Jane over David for good?
MARA BROCK AKIL: I’ve been having a conversation with the audience about that one true love. The one that we measure everything against, even if we move forward. That one that really marks us. I tried to make an ending as neutral as I could, so that the audience could create their own judgment about what they think Mary Jane will do. I’m very curious to hear what people think. And wasn’t Meredith Baxter begging for her son amazing? She’s the quintessential helicopter mom.
What made you decide to cast a white love interest for Mary Jane this season?
This is my contribution to the subject of interracial dating. You might find love in a different race, and I think it’s beautiful, because its hard to find love. If you find it, hold onto it. But it’s okay to want to experience love from where you prefer. I wanted Mary Jane to explore her options. It’s really interesting, especially since the character is almost 40 yeas old. If she was 20 years old, you’d say, “Oh she’s in her exploratory years.” She tried it, and it was a curiosity. And afterwards, she came to grips with, “I don’t think I want to do this. And that’s okay.” In the finale, MJ is reflecting on all she’s been through. A lot of times you need to walk through the valley to see the light, and I think we’ve set her up for that.
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Shifting to a more serious note, the episode ended with Niecy portrayed as a victim of police brutality. How do you decide which topics you will address each season, and why end the season on that note?
An interesting fact is that we wrote and produced this moment before the Sandra Bland case. My heart broke when Sandra Bland happened, and all the Sandra Blands that haven’t been reported. The reason why I wanted to talk about police brutality is when we’re talking about race, specifically black people in America, or talking about feminism, black women aren’t at the forefront of those fights. And when the discussion comes up, we’re often left out of the conversation to the point where it is painful. Our bodies are attacked constantly, whether it be through rape, pulled out of cars like Niecy, or killed like Sandra Bland. And I wanted, like the young journalist character says in the last scene, to make sure we were part of the story. No different than I want black women’s humanity to be part of the cultural and political landscape. As we talk about change and we talk about what is happening in America to black people, I don’t want us to forget about what’s happening to black women as well.
Fans were absolutely shocked that Lisa died this season. Did you always know you were going to end her story line that way?
Yes. I wanted to talk about mental illness. And sometimes with subjects like that, you have to deal with the reality of extremes. We need to hit pause, and engage with truth and honesty. That was a challenge for me this season, getting people that work on the show to buy into my vision. I’m thankful for those who trusted me, and happy it paid off.
What does Mary Jane’s future look like?
I don’t know.
If there going to be a season 4 of Being Mary Jane on BET? I know you’re transitioning from a showrunner to a consultant on the show, as per your new production deal with Warner Bros. TV.
As of now, I have no news to offer. I have not gotten word about a season 4 from BET. I have certainly offered my opinion about a showrunner, but there hasn’t been an engagement on that topic. So I have my own personal cliff-hanger, I guess you could say. I’ve been able to have such creative freedom in bringing these characters to life, along with some amazing people. I’m proud of the Being Mary Jane cast, staff, and crew and what we’ve been able to do for three seasons. I really appreciate that.
The episode ends with the producer asking Mary Jane to do a segment on the police brutality in order to give black women their voice. That sentiment behind that – giving black women a voice on television – has been a huge theme of the show since season 1. How will you continue to give black women a voice to do that in your next steps at Warner Bros.?
I’m hoping that not only I get to expand my canvas or have more canvases through comedy and drama, but that I’ll be able to supervise other voices within that space. I know [husband and producing partner] Salim [Akil] really wants to do the black male voice. That’s definitely something that’s missing from TV in the scripted space. We’re hoping to expand in all directions. I’m excited, and they’re [Warner Bros.] excited. They want what we’ve got. That opportunity for expansion, growth, different tones and adding new voices to the company will be great.