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Mara Brock Akil

Mara Brock Akil

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Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Television writer-producer Mara Brock Akil was familiar with the dilemmas facing young African-American career women and the balancing act that came with the territory. She, like so many others, strove to make peace with the myth of "having it all." Still, she had her own thoughts on simultaneously trying to cultivate personal and professional lives and transcending the predetermined expectations of racial identity. With a passion for writing at hand, she poured those thoughts into the creation of her first sitcom, "Girlfriends" (2000- ), which became the anchor for UPN's long-running comedy lineup and propelled her creative voice to the forefront of primetime.Born in Los Angeles on May 27, 1970, Mara Brock spent her early years in California, but moved with her family to Kansas City at age eight. One of three children, Brock marveled as she watched her single mother, Joan, rise from working as a secretary to designing her own lucrative career in computer programming. A less technically-inclined Brock, however, was more interested in stories than computers, and went on to major in journalism at Northwestern University. In her senior year, she managed to duck into a coveted screenwriting course,...

Television writer-producer Mara Brock Akil was familiar with the dilemmas facing young African-American career women and the balancing act that came with the territory. She, like so many others, strove to make peace with the myth of "having it all." Still, she had her own thoughts on simultaneously trying to cultivate personal and professional lives and transcending the predetermined expectations of racial identity. With a passion for writing at hand, she poured those thoughts into the creation of her first sitcom, "Girlfriends" (2000- ), which became the anchor for UPN's long-running comedy lineup and propelled her creative voice to the forefront of primetime.

Born in Los Angeles on May 27, 1970, Mara Brock spent her early years in California, but moved with her family to Kansas City at age eight. One of three children, Brock marveled as she watched her single mother, Joan, rise from working as a secretary to designing her own lucrative career in computer programming. A less technically-inclined Brock, however, was more interested in stories than computers, and went on to major in journalism at Northwestern University. In her senior year, she managed to duck into a coveted screenwriting course, which fueled her creative ambitions and, after college, made her decide to take advantage of Chicago's creative scene. Staying local, she took a job as a manager at a Gap clothing store and educated herself in different facets of acting and production, landing a small part in the film "With Honors" (1994), where she befriended and observed the crew members.

Less than a year later, Brock packed up and headed to Los Angeles. In an industry where black sensibilities were rarely fully-utilized, Brock was confident in her goal of becoming one of Hollywood's power players. In 1993, she landed a production assistant's gig on "The Sinbad Show" (1993-94) and one year later, parlayed her writing skills into a writing job on Fox's drama "South Central" (1994), a frank portrayal of inner-city life as experienced by a working-class black family. The show was lovingly-crafted, but ultimately didn't last on the air.

Brock jumped from drama into comedy writing when she was hired as a staff writer on a new UPN sitcom called "Moesha" (1996-2001), a vehicle for teen R&B star Brandy that premiered in January of 1996 and quickly found an audience. In 1997, Brock consented to meeting up-and-coming filmmaker Salim Akil at the request of a mutual friend and the two went out on a dinner date. Two years later, she happily became Mara Brock Akil, after that successful dinner date led to a wedding. Akil's work life also saw its share of quick changes, as she had since become a story editor on "Moesha," then a producer by the 1998-99 season.

By May of 1999, at the close of the fourth season of "Moesha," Akil moved on to a job of staff writer and co-producer on The WB's "The Jamie Foxx Show" (1996-2001), then promoted to the position of supervising producer. Over a period of years in which she kicked around various project ideas of her own, Akil was keen on developing a semi-serious look at four African-American career women and their attempts to juggle personal and professional aspirations. Focusing on a harried Los Angeles lawyer named Joan and her three girlfriends, the set-up for her sitcom, "Girlfriends," was born from her own longstanding friendships made in Hollywood.

Not so much interested in the pat resolutions of typical sitcoms, nor just a clone of style-conscious shows like "Sex and the City" (HBO, 1999-2004), Akil wanted to allow her characters the grace of realistic imperfections. The UPN network, which had found its biggest success with black audiences, gambled on the idea, along with actor Kelsey Grammer, who shepherded Akil's vision through his Grammnet Productions. Debuting in the fall of 2000, "Girlfriends" thankfully not only seemed to resemble the show Akil had in mind, but even got the critical and audience response she had hoped for.

At the start of the third season, Akil was now the showrunner on "Girlfriends" and made the major creative calls. The show was also being co-produced under her own Happy Camper Productions banner. In 2002-03, the series was nominated for the Outstanding Comedy Series category by the NAACP's Image Awards. By 2003, Akil had brought her husband, who had directed episodes of Showtime's "Soul Food" (Showtime, 2000-04), to helm several episodes of the show. The Akils then collaborated on a more personal venture, a son named Yasin, who arrived the following year.

By the time UPN merged with The WB to form the CW Television Network in 2006, "Girlfriends" was one of its top draws and survived the changeover into the CW's maiden season. Akil was also scripting a pilot for Brandy's return to series television for the 2006-07 season, along with a sports comedy. Brandy's sitcom did not move forward at the CW, but the sports comedy did, and beginning that October, Akil also added a new project to her repertoire - "The Game" (2006- ). The sitcom, also produced by Grammnet, chronicled the lives of football wives and the push-and-pull relationship that comes with dating high-profile athletes. Akil, who was the only African-American show creator in Hollywood with two programs airing concurrently, was then overseeing both show staffs at the same time out of a split office.

The promise of "The Game" was somewhat marred by a lawsuit filed against the network, Grammnet and Akil by screenwriter Staci Robinson a month before its debut. In the suit, Robinson claimed Akil boosted the idea after she gave Akil a copy of her novel Interceptions, about her own experiences as an NFL wife, which was praised by the producer. The novel was a submitted sample for Robinson's job interview with Akil in 2001, though Robinson later passed on the assistant's job. Amidst the accusations, Akil contended that she and her husband's interest in football and their competing football team loyalties were the inspirations for the series' genesis. Despite the lawsuit, the show was able to move forward and Akil began, once more, to reveal the layers of her onscreen characters.

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CAST: (feature film)

1.
 With Honors (1994) Ms Moore
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