EXCLUSIVE: “I got to a point where I could no longer live with myself and be the mother I wanted to be, be the Amber I always dreamed of being if I tolerated the history of the abuse,” says Amber Dixon Brenner of why she recently filed domestic abuse and copyright infringement lawsuits against Love Is _ and Black Lightning executive producer Salim Akil. “I could not walk with my head up,” the Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps actor adds.
First in a now voluntary without prejudice dismissed federal case filed in late October and a Los Angles Superior Court filing last month, Brenner alleged not just frequent and chilling examples of abuse by the married Black Lightning showrunner but accused him and spouse Mara Brook Akil of ripping off the premise for Love Is _ from her 2015 screenplay Luv & Perversity in the East Village.
Earlier this month, a lawyer for Akil called both the abuse and breach of contract claims in the jury seeking LASC complaint “totally untrue.” On December 19, OWN announced that it had canceled Love Is _ after renewing the series for a second season in July. At the same time, producers WBTV conducted an inquiry on both Love Is_ and Black Lightning to see if cast and crew had any misconduct they wanted to discuss. The now AT&T owned WBTV says that no misconduct was expressed or discovered and Salim Akil remains in charge of the still in production Black Lightning.
With her lawyer Joe Costa of Pacific Palisades’ CostaLaw listening in, Brenner spoke with me earlier today about her case(s), her struggle to admit to herself what she says happened in her relationship with Akil and her reaction to OWN ending Love Is _
Contacted by Deadline, a representative for Salim Akil and Mara Akil did not respond to request for comment about if Mara Akil knew about the alleged affair between Brenner and her husband, nor the claims of abuse.
DEADLINE: You claim in your legal action that relationship with Salim Akil ended after almost a decade in 2017 and Love Is _ debuted in late June, so why did you wait until just recently to file your lawsuits?
BRENNER: Some of it was simply timing. Joe Costa my lawyer and I worked very hard from July or August to pull things together.
DEADLINE: But why nearly a month between the now dismissed federal case for copyright infringement and the state case for domestic violence and breach of contract?
BRENNER: I thought spreading them apart would be enough of an indicator of my claim and I thought that I would be acknowledged and I would have an opportunity to discuss this with Salim and Mara. I even wanted to file them together but waking up comes in stages and oftentimes what happens is you realize after trying and trying and trying that without accountability the other person just remains ignorant and you keep trying.
If you love someone you keep trying to give them chance after chance and then you realize you don’t love me. You’re not sorry. You’re not coming to me in a private manner or to my lawyer wanting to apologize. I wanted an apology and I wanted it acknowledged that he was abusive.
When I realized, oh, you don’t really don’t care. You know what, this is my turn to hold you accountable because Salim thought he was above accountability, as did Mara. So that is when I pulled the trigger on the state because it was also not just for the abuse. It was for theft of idea, which plays into copyright, absolutely.
So it wasn’t like I was saying anything new about him stealing my work. It was just me saying very specifically not only did he steal my work, he stole the work that I wrote about him abusing me.
DEADLINE: What prompted you to want to make your story with the Akils public?
BRENNER: It started when Mara was on the cover of some magazine and she stood along with other women in the industry talking about #MeToo or Time’s Up. I read it and I was appalled and I felt disregarded and that the issues from the relationship that in the past I had tried to resolve or discuss regarding violence she was very silent about. Like not responding to texts earlier on in the relationship.
DEADLINE: Just to be clear, Mara was aware of your affair with Salim?
BRENNER: Oh, yes.
DEADLINE: So, what happened when you tried to reach out to Salim and Mara about this?
BRENNER: Salim blocked my phone number. But I first reached out to Mara when she was on the cover of that magazine. I wrote her an email saying how is it that you come forward now when in your private life you knew that your husband had a habit of hitting me?
The letter I wrote was very thorough.
I said I came to know it as reflective of the definition of abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and the abuse of power also based upon their stature in the industry and otherwise.
DEADLINE: How did you feel when Love Is came out this summer?
BRENNER: When news of Love Is_ came out, I was very much in denial. The titles were similar and I’m very much in denial and not wanting to be the hater ex-lover.
So I was actually congratulating them and I was wanting to believe that it was a sitcom or that it was far removed from anything I wrote, shared, and asked him to work on with me, which he declined the opportunity saying he was to obviously busy. Shortly thereafter, I found out they pitched the idea to ABC or something. They pitched it called Documenting Love. When I heard that title I was thinking my whole script was on the study of love. This is odd, but I didn’t want to be a hater. I just wanted to be supportive and congratulate and champion people that I really loved and I really cared about their expression.
What happened was I was in denial up until a few days before. It was Father’s Day. I wished Salim a happy Father’s Day to which he responded with a very short thank you with some icon.
DEADLINE: That’s Father’s Day this year or last year?
BRENNER: This year. Prior to that, it was very off on. The last time we were physical was in the summer of 2017, spring to summer around that time. Then after that it was more of like a phone relationship where I did confront him about the abuse.
DEADLINE: What was his reaction?
BRENNER: His reaction, and I say this with compassion for Salim, I will say that because I do think there’s a degree to which compassion is in line for an abuser and a perpetrator. So I say this with compassion that when I confronted Salim at first he was in full denial and sort of gaslighting me.
Saying I had a break with reality, etcetera, etcetera.
It was only until I said I’ve been in therapy for 10 years. I have doctor’s notes. I have friends that were present at the Roosevelt Hotel when you did horrific things to me in the bathroom and when I came back in I was dealing with trauma and my friends wanted to know what happened I told them. So if you want to claim that all of this did not happen I’m sorry but you will be refuted by two doctors, a psychiatrist and a psychologist as well as all of my friends who’ve been on this journey with me as well as my husband who stuck by me at times we were co-parenting, separate.
DEADLINE: This was on the phone?
BRENNER: Yes and I said you cannot deny this. It’s not going to work.
So he then went silent after which we agreed to meet and discuss and I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
BRENNER: I felt like if I saw him I would fall into the pattern of deep love. And a lot of times I made excuses. I often would apologize for the abuse. I would apologize for calling him out. I never wanted to hurt him or embarrass him. So I would call him out about the abuse and then I would retract apologetically because I would feel so bad for calling out someone I love and embarrassing them. I couldn’t see him because I loved him and I would just give in.
DEADLINE: Let’s shift back to the lawsuits for a second, well, lawsuit since you’ve dismissed the federal one now. How did you prepare to argue that Love Is _ was essentially lifted off Luv & Perversity in the East Village?
BRENNER: One major thing I did was have an expert report done by a celebrated scholar in film who taught at UCLA. I wanted to make sure that I was being fair and not coming from just some emotional place. I didn’t want to be vindictive.
I wanted to be honest and clear and so therefore I needed my work to be tested through a means of scholarly consideration for things like tone, plot, etcetera. So in doing that, prior I did confront Salim. I confronted Salim in a text. I basically was like how could you do this to me?
DEADLINE: Less than a month after your lawsuits went public, OWN has canceled Love Is _ after renewing it for a second season in the summer. How does that make you feel?
BRENNER: I did feel a sense of this is the right thing, this is correct response from the OWN network. This is a correct response to Salim and Mara and it felt like a bit of an acknowledgment of what I had gone through.
Look, it’s a sad situation. It’s a terrible situation that I was ever in the predicament of having to call him out and her out. It’s tragic to me that these things ever happened. It’s tragic to me that my work was stolen and then misappropriated to their supposed love story. Honestly, the first time I saw the show, and we can go back on the record, my first reaction was I want my work off the television now. I want this off.
DEADLINE: And now it is…
BRENNER: Yes, I do have compassion, even after they used my work, because obviously it says that they did not have the capacity to come up with it themselves. They had to use me, once again, to define through my terminology and my studies their fictitious idea of their marriage. Now, if it’s all fictitious I’m not sure. I think a lot of it is true in terms of their love for each other. My character work, I don’t know if it was (him) did this to me out of one more time abusing me and trying to put me in my place. I don’t think that’s above Salim.
DEADLINE: This week we saw Harvey Weinstein fail in his attempt to get the rape case against him dismissed. We’ve heard so many terrible tales of harassment, abuse and violence in what it now called the #metoo era. I was wondering, what would you say to women, who may have gone through something similar to what you detail in your L.A. Superior Court lawsuit, who read about your case?
BRENNER: I would say that it’s about acknowledging abuse for what it is instead of in place of defining who deserves to acknowledge their abuse. I would also say that if you are a victim of abuse, there is nothing you could do that makes you unworthy of standing up for yourself. I don’t care if it’s an extramarital affair. I don’t care if everyone respects people based off of their track record in the industry. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. One should never take abuse.
I got to a point where I could no longer live with myself and be the mother I wanted to be, be the Amber I always dreamed of being if I tolerated the history of the abuse. I could not walk with my head up. I went through a period of not being able, and I still can’t, I wouldn’t even call it writer’s block. It’s very traumatic to experience what I did and so writing has not been my voice. I can’t even access it. So it gets to the point where you’re walking dead through life and that’s no way to live.