Mara Brock Akil’s ‘Love Is_’ Updates Black Sitcom Golden Age

By Sameer Rao Jun 15, 2018

Mara Brock Akil says that coming into adulthood during the ’90s, when Black-led sitcoms like "Martin" were king, influenced the way she has approached her nearly 30 years in Hollywood.

“I’m a product of that time,” she tells The New York Times in a profile published online today (June 15). “There was a flood of writers at that time because they were building out new distribution lines—WB, UPN and Fox—then cable shortly thereafter. It felt like from the media perspective, Black people were rolling. Puffy was throwing money around in music videos. But on the other hand, if you look at the 1990s, Black unemployment was still very much high.”

She revisits that time, which article author Salamishah Tillet calls "the golden age of the Black sitcom," on her new Oprah Winfrey Network show, "Love Is_." The series revisits that era to tell the story of two industry creatives—heavily based on Brock Akil and husband Salim Akil—falling in love. It also explores the limits of that era’s sitcoms via a sly nod to "Martin," with one of the main characters working on a sitcom called "Marvin."

"This is a more grounded approach with an edge that we and other comedies of that era couldn’t have back then," says Kadeem Hardison, who starred in "A Different World" and plays the executive producer of show within a show "Marvin."

"With this particular project, I really set out for it to be like an independent film—10 little movies within this larger movie," Brock Akil, who serves as series showrunner, adds about the differences between what she can make now and what she could in the ’90s. "Often times, we don’t get to play in that space. So I wanted to take this canvas and stretch it, and make room and space for our way of being seen and heard and being expressed.”