Watch This: The Akils On Black Film And TV You Can't Miss
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It's time now for another installment of Watch This. This is when we ask Hollywood insiders for television and movie recommendations.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This morning, we hear from Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil. She's the brains and showrunner - that's executive producer - behind BET's hit television shows "The Game" and "Being Mary Jane." He is a television and film producer and director.
GREENE: Combined, the Akils are a powerhouse creative team and couple who've created some of the most iconic African-American characters on television. And our colleague, Steve Inskeep, spoke with them about their must-see lists.
We'll start with Mara Brock Akil. Her first pick is from "Selma" director Ava DuVernay. It's the 2012 film "Middle Of Nowhere."
MARA AKIL: It follows the story of a woman who's faithful to her husband, who's been imprisoned, and she's just waiting for his release.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MIDDLE OF NOWHERE")
EMAYATZY CORINEALDI: (As Ruby) I can't believe it - 10 months early.
OMARI HARDWICK: (As Derek) It's good news.
M. AKIL: And she finds out that he had an infidelity in prison. And it's about sort of her journey to let go and choose herself, so to speak. And also, I love how Ava explores the hardship of what the prison system has done on families. It's not just punishing the criminal, so to speak, it's punishing the whole family.
STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Now, when we talk about films that are social commentaries - just a couple of months ago, here at NPR, I had a colleague who made a reference in passing to Radio Raheem. And it reminded me how current a film from 1989 - that's on your list - "Do The Right Thing" still is. That's on Salim Akil's list. What put it there for you?
SALIM AKIL: You know, the times. Tell me again, when did that movie come out?
S. AKIL: Nineteen-eighty-nine. And here we are, and we've had a few Radio Raheems.
INSKEEP: I guess we should explain for people, Spike Lee is the director and also stars in the film. Radio Raheem is a character who is not unprovocative. He's walking around with a giant boom box, but in the end gets killed in a confrontation with police.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DO THE RIGHT THING")
S. AKIL: When you talk about young black men walking around with radios, blasting their music, all of a sudden it becomes, you know, a threat. You know, I have two little black boys, and, you know, a film like "Do The Right Thing" can help illuminate the times for them with a great storytelling. And it's just - you know, when you have to tell your 10-year-old and your 6-year-old how to deal with the police, when I tell my 10-year-old that, hey, look man, you can't run through that wealthy neighborhood or your own neighborhood.
M. AKIL: Your own wealthy neighborhood.
S. AKIL: Because if you do, a police officer may see you and he's not thinking you're outside having fun, he's thinking you're running away from something or that you've done something. And if you look at that movie, "Do The Right Thing," you can see certain aspects of that, and the conversations that they're having and the way people feel illuminate where we are today. That's what great art does.
INSKEEP: Well, Mara Brock Akil, let's go back to your list here because there's a TV show on it called "Getting On." What is that?
M. AKIL: Oh, it's a lovely show. It's a HBO show that sort of circles around the nurses and a particular doctor. I guess it would be a geriatric ward of a hospital. It's interesting because it's a place where, you know, people go to die. And who are the people caring for these patients? And I was first attracted to it because I like Niecy Nash, and I thought, wow, I haven't seen Niecy in a performance like this.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GETTING ON")
NIECY NASH: (As Nurse Didi Ortley) Mr. Talbot (ph), Dr. Trone (ph) finally faxed his approval for your sleeping pill. It's a Trazodone. You want to wake up and take your sleeping pill?
M. AKIL: When you do a hospital show, there's going to be the sort of, quote, unquote, "sassy black woman at the desk." And her portrayal of the character is just so beautiful. Although it's just a job in some ways for her, she's reminded that they're people.
INSKEEP: Salim Akil, when you walk through the living room and she's got this one on the screen, do you sit down and watch or you continue on through the room?
S. AKIL: Never seen it.
M. AKIL: This is the one I have to like because really it's...
S. AKIL: Didn't even know it existed until you mentioned it this morning.
INSKEEP: Maybe you want to make a case for why he should pay attention to this TV series.
S. AKIL: If she tells me to watch it, I'm just going to watch it. There's no case.
S. AKIL: I have a hard time watching things like that because I worked in a mortuary for five years and I worked in an outpatient facility for bipolars and schizophrenics and manic-depressives for another five years. So when you work in those sort of places, you see elderly people quite a bit. And you get to vibe with them in their last days, which actually is a beautiful thing because when someone knows that they're going to die and they're talking to you, they usually talk to you in truth.
INSKEEP: Wow. Well, we really ought to end on that note.
M. AKIL: Where do you go from there?
INSKEEP: But there's one more item on the list here - "Cooley High." And that is from Salim Akil's list here, from 1975. What's going on there?
S. AKIL: You know, I put that on there because oftentimes we don't get to see films about coming of age, especially for young African-Americans.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "COOLEY HIGH")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You crazy.
GLYNN TURMAN: (As Preach) Yeah, you can call me crazy when I come back with my first million.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Man, you think somebody's going to pay you a million dollars for that junk you write?
TURMAN: (As Preach) You guys think it's so funny because I want to be something besides a factory worker or a football player.
S. AKIL: I had to go through this and most guys have to go through this. When do you separate yourself from your friends? Some of them are going to go left, some of them are going to go right, some of them are going to go straight, and you have to go on your path. And I remember I had a really good friend, and as we were coming through high school, he had to make a decision about his life, and I had to make a decision about my life. He wound up in the drug trade, and, you know, the drug trade in our community was a legitimate business in a lot of people's minds because they were dealing with police officers who were helping them sell drugs and all sorts of things. So you have to make those sort of decisions. And I think "Cooley High" really illuminates in a fun way, but also in a dramatic way, the idea of growing up and making choices. And we need those kind of films. You know, it's great that we're having this conversation because you talked about "Do The Right Thing." We've talked about this show that Mara likes to watch on HBO, "Getting On." We talked about "Cooley High." For me, those really represent being an American. You know, I am an African-American, no doubt about it, but the things that we've managed to accomplish in cinema and music and now in politics, I think it's absolutely amazing. So I think, you know, most white folks should be like, you know, I really like these black people.
S. AKIL: White people, you should love us. Go see our movies. Go see our - learn about us. Learn about us.
M. AKIL: Watch our shows.
S. AKIL: Watch our shows.
INSKEEP: Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil, it's been a great pleasure talking with you both. Thank you.
M. AKIL: Thank you, Steve. It was a pleasure.
S. AKIL: Thank you.
GREENE: Our colleague, Steve Inskeep, speaking with producer/directing team Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil. Mara Brock Akil is the creative mind behind BET's hit show "Being Mary Jane," which airs tonight.
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