Last fall, Gabrielle Union interviewed her bosses Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, the husband and wife team behind Being Mary Jane for The Hollywood Reporter. When Union asked a question about intentionally the show for a black audience, Salim answered,
It’s a popular thing now in TV to say, “This character happens to be black.” But one thing I’ve always admired about our approach is that we actually do black on purpose. We’re not shy about saying that.
In a recent interview with Vulture, Mara Brock Akil was asked about creating shows that are “black on purpose” as opposed to color-blind casting and she gave this amazing answer,
You and your husband, Being Mary Jane executive producer Salim Akil, have spoken about the idea of “black on purpose” when it comes to casting. Why do you prefer that over color-blind casting?
I’m an artist, and part of the story is all of the background. That informs why something happened. If you’re going to explore ISIS, it’s a lot to unfold to see how we got there. Well, same thing about a person. You’ve got to go back and figure out why they’re that way. What’s interesting to me is that when it comes to sometimes getting things made, we have to [cast color-blind]. I’m like, No, I’m not fucking color-blind! I have a rich history, can you include that? It’s a roadmap for how I’m able to write my characters. I don’t know why race and culture would not be important to a character. The problem is when I want to go into the room and be black on purpose, the chances of me getting that program on are nil. Typically, an entry point for television creators is when a new network is trying to launch and wants to build off a large demographic to garner some success. UPN, the CW, Warner Brothers at one point in time, they went to black programming so they could go get a demographic, and then as soon as they built their networks, much like America, they get booted out for what they call mainstream. BET is a place for black entertainment, and that’s why a show like Being Mary Jane can be on. People say, “Being Mary Jane can be on anything!” Well, yeah, but when I went to pitch it, nobody wanted it.
The success of Being Mary Jane and shows like Empire, meaning that networks and different content platforms aren’t shying away from “black on purpose” television, and that such shows can be viable and successful. Even Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder are “purposely black” in the level of nuance afforded to the lead characters of each show, despite having mixed casts.