“It really came from a conversation I’ve been having specifically with Black women,” said creator and executive producer Brock Akil on the genesis on the project. Speaking on a panel discussion at the annual American Black Film Festival, the creator behind shows like Girlfriends and Being Mary Jane said she’d often get inquiries from Black females on how she and husband Salim Akil were able to maintain such as strong relationship within the confines of Hollywood.
“I wanted to share what my journey is like and what his journey is like. I think now is a time in which we need love in a narrative. It has been missing for some time in a sincere way.”
Love Is___, set primarily in 1990s Los Angeles against the backdrop of Black Hollywood, follows Nuri (Michele Weaver) and Yasir (Will Catlett), a couple from seemingly opposite worlds, as they chase their dreams and learn to follow their hearts. Told from the perspective of the couple’s present-day selves, the romantic drama explores the highs, the lows and the magic of falling — and staying — in love.
“This is my attempt of sharing this and really to say I think that love is achievable if you define it and design it for yourself,” said Brock Akil.
“This is not a blueprint. I’m not offering a how-to,” she adds. “The how-to is hopefully to be inspired by figuring out what you want as an individual and share it with another individual to build something together, whatever that may be.”
Brock Akil was joined onstage by stars Weaver, Catlett, and Kadeem Hardison, who is taking his own trip down memory lane of sorts.
Hardison is best known for his role as Dwayne Wayne in the colligate-set ’90s sitcom A Different World. He’s starring in another ’90s-centric series albeit filmed in the modern era.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Hardison on getting to revisit the 90s. “That was the best time in the history of time. This genius [Brock Akil] decided we’re going to go back, back in time and tell it the way we should have been telling it… So really I can’t even express how proud and how excited I am to be a part of this.”
As newcomers in leading roles, Weaver and Catlett leaned on the guidance of the Akils to shape their performance
“I figured since she’s the voice of the show so she’s giving me a palette already to work with,” said Weaver. “I just looked to [Brock Akil] and I knew she wasn’t going to make me look bad and I was inspired by her… I just trusted that and I purposely did not want to get stuck in my head and try and imitate anything but make it authentic in the moment.”
“Mara’s incredible,” said Catlett. “When she’s 40 feet deep and I’m only operating at 30, she has to pull me down there to be where she’s at and sometimes that’s difficult.”
Catlett added, “Sometimes you want to give up but she has that experience. She’s been having a conversation with women and men in all her projects and this is a continued conversation.”
Brock Akil directed the first episode of the series, which not only marked her television directorial debut but also fulfilled a longtime ambition.
“Salim was supposed to direct the pilot. That was just how we were moving,” said Brock Akil. “Then when he couldn’t and someone said we have to find a director I was like oh, hell to the no.”
She said it was her younger self that pushed her into the director’s chair. “It was Mara, the 23-year-old, who came to LA and finally raise her hand and stop being scared… I was nervous but it ain’t no stopping me now. I have a full expression of my work and I am very proud of it.”
Brock Akil insisted that although the show is based on her relationship with her husband, it will consist of a mixture of factual events with fiction “to reflect more of the human condition.”
On her definition of love, Brock Akil said “it’s the driving force to anything that we want to connect to, whether that be a romantic relationship, a friendship, a work friendship, and connected to our dreams… whatever that action is it’s a force. It’s the light that connects us to anything and everything that we want and it’s also called love.”
Love Is___ premieres June 19 on OWN.