TR: Given the arguably problematic depictions of black women on VH1, do you feel responsibility to balance that image and make a conscious effort to not have women fist-fighting?
SAL: [Those shows] are like watching a train wreck — you can’t take your eyes away. I do like providing a different energy. Life is not all a box of chocolates, as they say. Drama, fights do happen. That’s real. If there are fights on my show, you’re fighting your emotions. Or it’s a fight with your passions, with your desires. We do have one fight, but it’s way later in the season and it’s very organic to the story.
TR: How do you compete against the myriad reality shows?
SAL: I used to hate reality TV. It was taking so many of my friends’ jobs. And mine. I’ve even tried to think of reality shows. If you can’t beat them, join them. But I couldn’t. I thought, Am I dumb? I can’t think of a reality show? Shouldn’t that be easy? But my brain doesn’t work like that. I like telling stories. I like fiction, creating characters.
TR: Recently, there’s been lots of criticism of how lily-white the cast of HBO’s Girls is. How important is it for you to have a multiracial ensemble?
SAL: I’m not familiar with the HBO show. I’ve heard about it, but can’t speak on that show. Having a diverse show is real important — but maybe not everybody has mixed-race friends. I went to school with all different races. I don’t know what it’s like to have friends of all one race. Diversity is a wonderful thing; we get so much from it.
I read recently where of all the pilots that were picked up by broadcast networks, four or five had black leads, which is more than we’ve seen in years — Meagan Good (NBC’s Infamous), Kerry Washington (in ABC’s Scandal), Cuba Gooding (ABC’s Guilty) and others. It’s a damn shame when that’s considered a lot of black people. Hollywood needs help. It’s a good old boy network. On Single Ladies, we’ve got LisaRaye, Denise Vasi and another girl named Cassandra Freeman who’s also black. There’s not a show that looks like mine, unless you go to BET. And I’m proud of that.
Brett Johnson is The Root’s associate editor.