Mara Brock Akil’s (BSJ92) unique sense of character development took her from Evanston to Hollywood, where her knack for showcasing black middle-class life has made her one of the most powerful women in television. Her acclaimed sitcom The Game, which just wrapped up its final season, set ratings records in 2010 when it debuted on BET.
The Game focuses on the women in football players’ lives and the relationships that ensue, emerging as a spinoff from Brock Akil’s first hit, Girlfriends, which aired for eight seasons. She also wrote and co-produced with her husband Salim Akil the 2012 movie Sparkle, a remake of the 1976 musical starring the late Whitney Houston. Akil founded a production company with her husband called Akil Productions.
The pair have just signed a multiyear overall deal with Warner Bros. TV through their Akil Productions banner. The new pact begins in May 2016. The couple worked with BET to produce original programs. Their first show, Being Mary Jane,
an hourlong drama starring Gabrielle Union that explores the statistic that 42 percent of black women will never marry, premiered with critical acclaim. As of January 6, 2016, the series has been renewed for a fourth season.
“The Akils are passionate about creating fresh stories and complex characters that entertain, reflect, and challenge,” says Loretha Jones, president of original programming for BET Networks. “Our audience has a yearning to see their lives authentically reflected on television. They know that Mara will always create characters that satisfy that need and will not be drawn in quite the same way anywhere else.”
That was first seen with Girlfriends, which debuted in 2000. The show, which drew upon Brock Akil’s own friendships, was her attempt to provide television viewers with a glimpse inside African-American culture, a presence she felt was sorely lacking in most shows at the time. Her vision resonated widely, as Girlfriends won a BET Comedy Award in 2005 for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.
She was recognized again, in 2012, when the NAACP presented her an Image Award for “Best Writing in a Comedy Series” for her work on The Game. After three seasons on the CW and a year off, it debuted on BET in 2010. Nearly 4 million viewers recently tuned into the season six finale.
Brock Akil’s ambition traces back to her childhood roots in Kansas City, Missouri. From her perch near the top of her high school class, she knew that she did not want to be like her peers who were planning to attend what she called the “13th grade” at the University of Missouri, despite a likely full scholarship.
She applied to only one school: Northwestern University.
“I wanted to go to the best journalism school,” she says. “Despite the cost, my mom let me follow my dreams.”
Brock Akil values her Medill education for what it added to her writing. She also credits her Journalism Residency (formally known as Teaching Media) experience at the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press with helping her realize working at a newspaper was not the right platform to share her varying ideas and experiences.
During college, she begged, pitched and pleaded her way into a screenwriting class, taught by the late Delle Chatman, that had just 15 spots and was usually filled with graduate students.
“That class literally changed my life,” she said. “I felt like Jerry Maguire when the light bulb went on… I thought, ‘This is what college is supposed to be like!’ ”
More than 20 years later, Brock Akil is still having the time of her life creating characters and story arcs that resonate with viewers. “Great storytelling and characters transcend sex or race,” Jones says. “Mara is a seeker of truth. She won’t rest until she has authenticity.”