This Mara Brock Akil Interview Begs the Question, Why Do Shonda Rhimes’ Casts Get More Accolades Than Akil’s?

This isn’t meant to pit the two African-American female showrunners against each other but, rather, to explore whether mainstream kingmakers prefer a certain kind of diversity on TV.

Writer-producer Mara Brock Akil in the press room during the 46th NAACP Image Awards presented by TV One at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in California on Feb. 6, 2015
Writer-producer Mara Brock Akil in the press room during the 46th NAACP Image Awards presented by TV One at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in California on Feb. 6, 2015 Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images

Mara Brock Akil’s interview during Chicago Ideas Week, recently posted to YouTube, began pretty normally. She described how she got her start in screenwriting.

Akil, a The Root 100 honoree and the mastermind behind hit TV shows like Girlfriends, The Game and Being Mary Jane, went to journalism school but soon found that she wanted to interject her own commentary into stories in ways that she couldn’t do while reporting.  

Plus, the stories she wanted to share with the world weren’t being green-lit in traditional media. So she went to Hollywood to create fictional characters that represented herself, the women in her world and the situations they go through. 

“I chose screenwriting. I chose a way of turning my lens toward the things that I thought were missing in the land of not just television,” Akil explains. “I didn’t see myself,” and that, Akil argued, is “more damaging, to be invisible to society.”

“I wanted to paint in and fill in some of that negative space,” Akil explained. “It’s very damaging to the psyche when you don’t see yourself.”

But it’s what Akil went on to say about her own success in television and film, and the perception of her success, that I found most surprising.

“No one wants to toot their own horn, but it’s funny. I’ve been saying forever, ‘We’re very successful.’ The interesting thing is that most people don’t see me as successful, but I’m very successful,” she said.

But then she went on to reveal something else: Walking onstage, at that very moment, for the interview at Chicago Ideas Week, was one of her first times feeling that she was “on a talk show” of sorts, “the way I imagined with success I would get one day.”

The larger vehicles that recognize and applaud success, she said, don’t give her career or her casts the props she thinks they deserve. It’s something that I—a huge Akil fan who thinks she’s incredibly underrated—think about from time to time as I bask in the idea that both she and another highly successful African-American female showrunner, Shonda Rhimes, are at the top of their game in Hollywood.

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