'Being Mary Jane': BET film starring Gabrielle Union to kick off original series

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Atlanta lived up to its reputation as the Hollywood of the South on Saturday with the advance screening of BET’s upcoming film Being Mary Jane.

The movie, starring Gabrielle Union, debuts on the cable channel on July 2 at 10:30 pm.

The hour long production will serve as a teaser for the anticipated Being Mary Jane series scheduled to hit the screens in January 2014.

It is just one of a handful of shows drawing attention to BET’s newfound shift towards original programming.

A protagonist who is far from perfect

Being Mary Jane, which was shot in Atlanta, revolves around the main protagonist Mary Jane Paul (played by Union), a successful talk show host, who on the surface has an enviable lifestyle. Still, her life is far from perfect.

“It’s in her [Mary Jane Paul’s] low moments where she most expresses her humanity,” said creator Mara Brock Akil in a Q&A with entertainment journalist Kelley L. Carter after the screening at the stylish W Hotel in Midtown Atlanta.

Though she has the trapping of success, Mary Jane has failed to fulfill a basic need: finding love with a man willing to commit. As she struggles to juggle her personal and professional life, the film also chronicles her devotion to her ailing mother and less successful siblings.

In one scene, an angry Mary Jane expresses her frustration about her teenage niece’s pregnancy and unemployed siblings.

“There are too many damn kids in this family and not enough people feeding them! Seriously, who has a job in this room? Raise your hand!”

A show that ‘represents real life’

The film is smart, funny, touching and a candid portrayal of the trials and tribulations of life as a single, professional woman.

Akil admits she is not trying to a “solve a problem” but explore issues and “that conversation is complicated.” She adds, “It represents real life.”

In fact, the series is the brainchild of the successful husband and wife team Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil. Their company Akil Productions has secured a multi-year development deal with BET Networks, following the success of The Game.

Being Mary Jane also touches on sensitive issues like colorism, what drives people to have illicit affairs and poverty in the African-American community.

‘A fresh look’

Karyn Greer, the longtime anchor for NBC’s Atlanta affiliate, 11 Alive, was just one of the hand-picked audience who turned out for the private Saturday afternoon screening.

“I thought it was a fresh look at issues facing young urban professions, specifically black women,” said Greer.

“Gabrielle Union does an amazing job showing us her other side. I really think it will open conversations in our community about dating, motherhood, and careers.”

Akil promises to keep the series “lusciously complicated” and given the positive response to the pilot she may already have succeeded.

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti