Friday, September 21, 2012

Urbanworld FF: Being Mary Jane

The Urbanworld Film Festival is a showcase for filmmakers and actors of color, presented at the AMC 34th Street in New York City. For more information on the festival and to see the full 2012 schedule of films, visit the website.

Gabrielle Union
I don't watch much television in general, except for TCM here and there, so I'm not terribly familiar with the Black Entertainment Television (BET) network. Numerous Boondocks comic strips have given me a certain impression, of course, but that is, after all, only one side of the story. Thursday night at Urbanworld, I saw another side. 

Being Mary Jane is a just-over-an-hour-long pilot movie created by a pair of BET veterans, the husband and wife team of director Salim Akil and writer Mara Brock Akil, both of whom have worked on the shows The Game and Girlfriends. In addition, they were responsible for last month's remake of the film Sparkle

Being Mary Jane stars Gabrielle Union as the host of a news talk show on a CNN-like network, and her various trials and tribulations: dysfunctional family, work drama, and of course, finding a man.

Mara Brock Akil & Salim Akil
From The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Murphy Brown to Ally McBeal, the "career woman" trope is well-worn territory, the major difference here being that it's now from a black perspective. Based on what I saw from the crowd on Thursday, many black women saw themselves in Mary Jane, which is a credit to writer Brock Akil's stated goal of authenticity, not to mention Union's performance. 

The relationship stuff got the biggest rise out of the audience - Mary Jane has a very, shall we say, healthy sex drive, even when there's not a man around - but I was more interested in the work and family stuff.

There's nothing particularly new or different about Being Mary Jane aside from the black angle, but I can appreciate the fact that it attempts to fill a niche. In the post-screening Q-and-A, Brock Akil made clear how much it means to her. 

L-R: Union, Brock Akil & Tika Sumpter at the Q-and-A
After a brief prologue, the film begins with a title card stating that 47% of black women in America are unmarried. Brock Akil said that she wanted Mary Jane to be a human being and not a statistic, and honesty and authenticity was crucial to that goal. 

She also praised her director husband Akil's contribution, saying that she needed him to help her tell this story. "Part of our love affair is our art," she said in describing their working relationship. It was announced last night that the Akils signed a deal with Paramount Pictures, so it appears that that relationship will continue to flourish.

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