Thursday night I went to the Urbanworld opening night premiere of Being Mary Jane, the new BET project written by Mara Brock Akil and directed by Salim Akil, the ultimate powerhouse couple. Gabrielle Union stars as Mary Jane Paul a TV news anchor who is balancing a dramatic family that leans on her, fighting to get the stories she wants to tell on air and a hit and miss dating life.
Debra Lee (rocky her cute natural) and BET exec Loretha Jones introduced the film. After a few previews of other films being shown at the festival, the film began. The made-for-tv film was really a backdoor pilot and with enough support the film would become a series. I don’t know what I expected, but I wasn’t prepared to love Being Mary Jane as much as I did. Seeing Mary be funny, sad, strong, vulnerable, obnoxious, loving, sensual, nerdy, fabulous, flawed and everything in between, made me realize how thirsty I was to see a character I could deeply see myself in on screen. The movie was a big gulp and I am already craving more.
In the film there are no stereotypes. Just real people living life. With authentic storytelling and committed actors, we see the Black experience fleshed out as career-woman Mary wonders when and if she will have kids mirrored with her younger family members having babies like they are a collection of designer bags. I relate to that. A Black momma that loves you and can read you like no one else. Um yes, I know that well.
After the film, ESSENCE Entertainment Director (and my first boss at the mag) Cori Murray moderated a panel with the Akil’s, Gabby, Tika Sumpter who stars as her friend and Richard Brooks, who plays Mary’s brother.
It was amazing to hear Mara Brock Akil tell the story of Mary Jane, and how the character had been visiting her since Girlfriends days and she saw that Mary had post-its with quotes all around her. In a meeting with BET execs Mara discussed the project and they gave it a greenlight on the spot. She said the ease of getting the go ahead must be what her counterparts in Hollywood usually experience.
Mara also talked about how her and husband Salim are a team, and got teary when speaking on how he pushes her and believes in her talent. She also reinforced how much of a skill being a director is, after writing and producing over 200 television episodes from The Game to Girlfriends, she sill wouldn’t say she was ready to be a director. Tika reinforced Salim’s directing from her experience on Sparkle.
Curvy girl ambassador Chasity Saunders asked about Being Mary Jane changing its name from Single Black Female. Mara shared she loved the first name, but didn’t want to confuse viewers with Single Ladies. I’m glad they changed the name. It frees the story to be Mary’s story and not trying to be every woman’s story. It also opens the lens to capture her whole being, instead of just her relationship status, a fight many of us have every day. You can’t be every woman. But by fully being one woman, every woman can relate.
To the Mary Jane in us all.