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.
I have to admit, I wasn’t planning on watching it, mainly because these days I don’t have the opportunity to view much television outside of what my 9 and 6 year-olds are viewing. If you want to ask me what’s happening on the Disney Channel or PBS Kids – I’m your woman. BET and Centric, not so much. But when I got an email from former colleague and uber-producer Debra Martin Chase announcing the premiere of her new sitcom “Zoe Ever After”, I made a point of setting my DVR to record it so I could carve out a moment to watch and support.
That moment came this morning, and I am so glad it did. “Zoe Ever After,” created and executive produced by Chase, Erica Montolfo-Bura and former “Moesha” lead Brandy Norwood (who stars in the titular role), is a delightful, smartly-written, acted and executed half-hour comedy about Zoe Moon, a woman restarting her life with a new cosmetics business, new love interests and a new parenting arrangement after filing for divorce from her famous boxer husband Gemini Moon(Dorian Missick).
Set in Manhattan,”Zoe Ever After” is actually filmed in Atlanta, but unlike some other half-hours shot there, its look and feel don’t come off as claustrophobic or cheap. The sets and visuals, though limited, are beautifully styled and on point. The costume design is equally striking, and if the show keeps it up, Brandy could add “fashion maven” to her actor/singer calling card.
But even more important than the look or basic premise is how well “Zoe” deals with its themes – the difficulty of dating after a break-up, co-parenting with an ex, the struggles of running a new business (the air conditioning breaks down in Zoe’s office and she is stubbornly against taking her ex’s help to fix it, even though the contractor he sends (Ignacio Serricchio) generates more heat than the system he’s repairing), and the internal tug-of-war that occurs when you still have feelings for the person who broke your heart.
All of the actors, including intended comic relief characters, on-a-mission-to-get-married best friend and publicist Pearl (Haneefah Wood), fashionable, openly gay assistant Valence (Tory Devon Smith) and bright, adorable son Xavier (Jaylon Gordon), make strong impressions, but Brandy in particular shines as she charmingly and believably navigates dramatic moments like where she tells her ex how he always made her feel invisible, or sillier ones where she gets pooped on by a dove (which is a clever metaphor tied to a story point, believe it or not).
The preliminary ratings and social media on “Zoe’s” debut are also strong, so BET looks to have a good compliment/counterpoint to “Real Husbands of Hollywood” on its slate, and I am personally looking forward to finding more time away from “Lab Rats” and “Arthur” to see if Zoe does indeed get her “ever after.”
“Zoe Ever After” airs Tuesdays on BET. To view the premiere episode, check your local listings or access clips via BET.com.