As GBN’s resident biracial, millennial nerd, I place a lot of importance on diversity at Comic Con and in the entertainment industry.
Pop culture has the power to influence how people see the world around them, and, thankfully, there are people in the entertainment industry who understand this and work to make content that showcases the positive aspects of diversity and uniqueness.
A prime example of this content is Steven Universe, an out-of-this-world show that isn’t afraid to show just how diverse this planet really is.
On the surface, Steven Universe is a cartoon about a boy trying to save the world. But on a deeper level it’s a show about love and friendship, and a show that teaches kids lessons about healthy relationships, anxiety, and how important it is to be true to yourself. Estelle, who plays Garnet (the fierce leader of the Crystal gems and fusion of LGBTQ+ couple Ruby and Sapphire), killed it at the Superheroes of Body PositivityPanel this Comic Con.
Estelle, along with the rest of the Crewniverse (people who work on Steven Universe) recently participated in Dove’s Self Esteem Project. Rebecca Sugar, the creator of Steven Universe and Estelle joined Dove on the Panel to talk about body positivity and open up about their own experiences with body image. “My body works, it’s gorgeous. It gets me from point A to point B. If someone, doesn’t like my body, that’s too bad,” Estelle explained.
Another show featured at Comic-Con was Black Lightning, a badass superhero show that celebrates Black Americans. Series co-creator Mara Brock Akil took the stage to express that “celebrating our culture is important to remind us that we are also a part of the fabric of American culture. Tracking our history and our path is important.”
Then there are the women of the Women Who Kick Ass Panel. Amandla Stenberg, who I’ve been a fan of since their portrayal of Rue in The Hunger Games, said “The topic of ‘strong female roles’ is tricky. There’s an awareness I have. I create representation because of the accessibility I have. When it comes to roles there is a give and take time. We continue to sacrifice in order to see the representation we want.” I will definitely be purchasing a ticket for their new movie The Darkest Minds.
And of course, there’s Regina King, who will be starring in HBO’s new Watchmen series. “There weren’t many like me kicking ass. I was a Lynda Carter fan. Even though Wonder Woman was wearing a skimpy outfit, she had ownership and confidence that exuded female strength,” Regina King explained about her own experiences with superheroes.
For me, cartoons and superheroes have shaped core aspects of my personality and morality, so it means a lot to me to see so many badass women of color involved in so many amazing projects share their experiences.
OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) has given a series order to “Love Is __,” a new drama from Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil. The Akils will create and executive produce the series through their company Akil Productions. Mara Brock Akil will serve as show runner. The series, which had previously been in development at ABC as a multi-camera comedy, will be produced in association with Warner Horizon. It is slated to premiere in 2018.
“I’ve dreamed of working with the Akils,” said Oprah Winfrey. “I’ve been a huge fan of their work since first viewing ‘Girlfriends.’ They know just how to hit the cultural nerve to make you think and laugh at the same time.”
“To have a partner that brings the attention to detail and sheer excellence that Oprah has built an empire on is an absolute dream come true for Salim and me,” said Mara Brock Akil. “That, and it’s Oprah! ‘Love Is ___’ is not only a passion project, but is a personal one for us as well. We’re grateful to have her wholehearted support and magic touch behind this story.”
Based on the Akils’ relationship, the series will tell the story of a power couple navigating the landscape of Black Hollywood. Mara Brock Akil is the creator of “Girlfriends” and “Being Mary Jane.” She and husband Salim Akil, director of the film “Jumping the Broom,” co-created “The Game.” The two are executive producers of the CW’s upcoming DC Comics-based superhero series “Black Lightning,” on which Salim Akil serves as showrunner.
Nafessa Williams and China Anne McClain have joined the previously cast Cress Williams in The CW’s upcoming DC Comics pilot “Black Lightning.” Cress Williams plays the title role (real name Jefferson Pierce), while Williams and McClain have signed up to play his daughters, Anissa and Jennifer Pierce – one a 20-something, passionate and quick-witted, who balances the demands of medical school with her job teaching part-time at her father’s school; and the other is an independent, outspoken scholar-athlete with a wild streak of her own.
In the DC comics, both daughters follow in their father’s footsteps and become superheroes themselves, known as Thunder and Lightning.
Initially set up at Fox TV, the Warner Bros/DC Comics project “Black Lightning” was moved to The CW, where it received an official pilot order. Fox put the project in turnaround after deciding not to proceed with a pilot. The move to The CW actually makes sense, as other Greg Berlanti superhero series (“The Flash” and “Supergirl”) are all currently at The CW. Recall “Supergirl” spent its first season on CBS, but it never really quite caught on with that network’s viewers, and so was shipped off to The CW.
Berlanti is collaborating with Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil on the live-action series based on the Black Lightning superhero – one of the first major African American superheroes to appear in DC Comics.
DC Comics drama “Black Lightning,” from executive producers Mara Brock Akil and husband/producing partner, Salim Akil (“Girlfriends,” “The Game,” “Being Mary Jane”) has moved from Fox to The CW with a formal pilot order, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Greg Berlanti, who produces several other DC properties for the CW (“Supergirl”, “The Flash”, “Arrow”) is also executive producing the project.
“Black Lightning” was one of DC Comics’ first major African-American superheroes when it debuted in 1977 from creators Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eeden. Should the drama move to series, it would be one of the first broadcast shows to feature an African-American superhero as its lead, joining Netflix drama “Luke Cage,” which hails from Marvel Comics.
The hourlong drama will center on Jefferson Pierce, who hung up his suit and his secret identity years ago. However, with a daughter hell-bent on justice and a star student being recruited by a local gang, he’ll be pulled back into the fight as the wanted vigilante and DC legend Black Lightning.
“Black Lightning” marks the first pilot pickup to come from the Akils’ overall deal with Warner Bros. Television. It was originally set up at Fox in September following a multiple-network bidding war.
According to DC Comics Universe lore, Black Lightning (real name Jefferson Pierce) – created by Tony Isabella and Trevor von Eeden, first appearing in “Black Lightning #1” (1977) – is a super-hero with the ability to generate and control lightning. Originally he was a high school principal and Olympic-level athlete who became a vigilante to take down organized crime in Metropolis’ Suicide Slum.
Eventually he would become a member of Batman’s team of Outsiders for many years, although he retired briefly to become secretary of education underneath president Lex Luthor. Returning to crime-fighting, he has also been a member of the Justice League. His two daughters operate as the super-heroes Thunder and Lightning.
And now a live-action series based on the superhero is set to come to your TV screens – The CW specifically – in a collaboration between Mara Brock and Salim Akil and Greg Berlanti, the man behind all of the CW’s DC universe series.
Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil will write and executive produce the series with Berlanti Prods.’ Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter, for Warner Bros. TV (recall the Akils inked a 3-year deal with Warner Bros. after exiting BET last year; “Black Lightning” will be their second project under the new deal; the first, announced a week ago, will be a comedy series titled “Documenting Love” which will center on a modern-day power couple navigating life, love and family.
When Dehanza Rogers first heard of the Four Sisters Endowed Scholarship, she wondered at the meaning of the name.
“I mean what sisters are we talking about?” she remembers thinking to herself. “It could have meant any number of things.”
Then a first-year MFA student at the UCLA School of Theater Film and Television, the 2014 graduate applied for the scholarship to help fund her thesis film years late.
But when she saw the names behind the scholarship, she knew what sistas they were actually talking about: Sara Finney-Johnson, Mara Brock Akil, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Felicia D. Henderson. From Being Mary Jane and Moesha to Love & Basketball and Soul Food: The Series, these four women have created some of the most important talking points in Black television and film lexicon.
Indeed, for decades, they have consistently been telling stories of the Black experience, navigating an industry that is notorious as much for its lack of diversity in storytelling as its storytellers. Each had her share of pushback and difficulties. And it was from these experiences that the idea —- to endow a scholarship towards filmmakers wanting to create African-American themed projects — was born. And the four friends agreed to endow it in a place that molds future industry influencers: film school.
ATLANTA (AP) — Patti Labelle and Queen Latifah both will be among those honored as part of the Black Girls Rock! awards show on BET in November. Black Girls Rock! founder Beverly Bond announced the show’s honorees in a statement Monday. Other honorees include tennis champion Venus Williams, screenwriter-producer Mara Brock Akil, ballet dancer Misty Copeland, community organizer Ameena Matthews and children’s rights advocate Marian Wright Edelman.
Actresses Tracee Ellis Ross and Regina King return as hosts of the ceremony, which will air Nov. 3. It will be taped later this month at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J. Black Girls Rock! is a nonprofit organization that mentors young black girls and works to fight negative images of black women in the media.
Atlanta lived up to its reputation as the Hollywood of the South on Saturday with the advance screening of BET’s upcoming film Being Mary Jane. The movie, starring Gabrielle Union, debuts on the cable channel on July 2 at 10:30 pm. The hour-long production will serve as a teaser for the anticipated Being Mary Jane series scheduled to hit the screens in January 2014. It is just one of a handful of shows drawing attention to BET’s newfound shift towards original programming.
A protagonist who is far from perfect
Being Mary Jane, which was shot in Atlanta, revolves around the main protagonist Mary Jane Paul (played by Union), a successful talk show host, who on the surface has an enviable lifestyle. Still, her life is far from perfect.
“It’s in her [Mary Jane Paul’s] low moments where she most expresses her humanity,” said creator Mara Brock Akil in a Q&A with entertainment journalist Kelly L. Carter after the screening at the stylish W Hotel in Midtown Atlanta.
Essence is honoring some powerful black women who have done some extraordinary work in the film and television industry at the 6th annual Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon. The prestigious event will take place at the Beverly Hills Hotel on February 21. This year’s honorees include Oprah Winfrey, Alfre Woodard, Gabrielle Union, Mara Brock-Akil, Naomie Harris, and breakthrough performer, Quvenzhané Wallis.
“The ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon recognizes the ‘Power of our Presence’, by spotlighting the stellar accomplishments of African-American female performers and creators in film and television,” says Essence editor-in-chief, Constance C.R. White. ”More importantly, the annual luncheon serves as a source of support and inspiration for the incredibly talented community of Black women who are often overlooked in Hollywood.”
Over the years, others like Viola Davis, Zoe Saldana, Angela Bassett and Pam Grier have been honored for their phenomenal contributions.