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BET launches “Being Mary Jane”

Provocative film signals new direction for network

By Ronda Racha Penrice Contributing Writer | 6/28/2013, 6 a.m.
"Being Mary Jane” revolves around beautiful broadcast news personality, Mary Jane Paul.

After a long delay, BET will finally air the kick-off film to its highly anticipated series “Being Mary Jane” on July 2 at 10:30 PM, right behind the mid-season premiere of “The Game“.

Starring Gabrielle Union, “Being Mary Jane” revolves around beautiful broadcast news personality, Mary Jane Paul. She has a blossoming career, a gorgeous home and a Porsche Panamera to rush to assignments and appointments in.

But she’s also among the estimated 42 percent of Black women who have never been married. So, in addition to balancing work and issues with her immediate family, she’s also looking for love and that, in itself, makes for intriguing viewing.

It’s the complexity of Mary Jane Paul’s story that BET is betting on as it takes this risk on such uncharacteristic programming. Most TV viewers now associate the network with risque rap videos and raunchy stand-up comedy more so than with scripted dramatic series.

So, to get the word out, BET hosted a tastemakers’ screening at the W Atlanta-Midtown featuring a question-and-answer session with “Being Mary Jane” creator Mara Brock-Akil. Although the film, which Brock-Akil’s husband, Salim Akil, directed, should gratify on its own, the impending series, which is curiously slated to air in January 2014, has more than enough material to flesh out for the longer haul.

Emphasizing that Mary Jane’s story is not applicable to all Black career women, Brock-Akil expressed her desire to present a fully-rounded character.

“Every episode,” she told the audience, “you will see the four aspects of Mary Jane’s life and those four aspects are her career _ not just on-air, but the dynamic between her colleagues and what her place is at the network: You will see her family life, and you will notice that she has a different dynamic with every single family member; And her love life, which is complicated and we’re going to keep it lusciously complicated.”

“And the fourth aspect, which I am very excited about is her alone life, which is where she expresses most of her humanity,” Brock-Akil added.

Although Mary Jane Paul’s circumstances may generalize some aspects of the ‘successful Black female’ experience, her story is uniquely her own. Within that unique story, however, Brock-Akil manages to discuss other issues of importance to her and the Black community at large such as “the complicated nature of love” as well as “why are we two paychecks away from poverty?”.

Other topics of interest include: infidelity, teenage pregnancy, and financially providing for an ailing parent in addition to the complexities that come with being the primary breadwinner in the family.

By being allowed to stretch her acting skills in ways rarely granted to actresses of any color, Union shines. Addressing the gathering, Brock-Akil marveled at Union’s portrayal and expressed her joy at seeing Union “this honest, this raw, this sexy, this funny, just all the layers to her as a character.”

As good as Union is in the role, however, Brock-Akil -- who also created both “Girlfriends” and “The Game” -- did admit that she did not initially envision Union playing the role.