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Tina Lifford, Ayoka Chinzera & Samantha Vincent honored during ‘Women Superstars Luncheon’ [PHOTOS]

Written by | Ray Cornelius

A BIG congratulations goes out to actress Tina Lifford and filmmakers Ayoka Chinzera and Samantha Vincent. The ladies were honored Friday afternoon during the Women Superstars Luncheon at the 2018 BronzeLens Film Festival.

The event took place at the illustrious Atlanta Marriott Marquis and was hosted by HGTV star and media maven Egypt Sherrod.

Celebrities in attendance included Greenleaf star Lynn Whitfield, 9-1-1 star Cocoa Brown, R&B music star Regina Belle, Living Single star Kim Coles, Mile 22 star Keith Arthur Bolden, actress and author Stacii Jae Johnson, actress and filmmaker Lisa Arrindell, filmmaker Muta AliLove Is… creator Salim Akil, actress DeEtta West, singer and filmmaker Nicci Gilbert and award-winning TV producer Dianne Ashford.

Lifford was saluted by her Queen Sugar co-star Omar Dorsey and picked up the Visionary Superstar Award for her career as an actress, activist and motivational speaker.

Chinzera, who is best known for her work as a groundbreaking filmmaker and content creator, was given the Catalyst Superstar Award. She is the first African-American female animator and one of the first female film educators.

Vincent earned the Vanguard Superstar Award for her work as executive producer on the Fast Furious movie franchise along with her brother Vin Diesel.

BLFF Artist Director Deidre McDonald also recognized for her contributions to film and for educating future filmmakers and content creators.

The afternoon also featured a conversation with Vincent that was moderated by noted filmmaker Roger M. Bobb and was sponsored by AARP-Georgia.

Check out all of the photos below:

Madea’s Family Reunion stars Lynn Whitfield + Lisa Arrindell 

Judith Service Montier + Egypt Sherrod

Keith Arthur Bolden + Omar Dorsey

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms 

Kim Coles + Kim McNair 

SURPRISE!! BLFF’s Deidra McDonald picked up the Superstar Award

Eygpt Sherrod + Nicci Gilbert

Regina Belle and daughter + AARP’s Debra Tyler-Horton + Kim McNair 

Love Is creator Salim Akil + Imara Canady + guest

BLFF Filmmakers Muta Ali + Lisa Arrindell 

Stacii Jae Johnson + Regina Belle 

Actress DeEtta West 

AARP State Director Debra Tyler-Horton

 Screening Room ATL’s Khalimah Gaston

Omar Dorsey + Tina Lifford + Ayoka Chinzera

Roger M. Bobb + Samantha Vincent 

Photo Credits: RayCornelius.com

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Watch Behind-the-Scenes Video of OWN’s new series ‘LOVE IS ____.’ (VIDEO)

Posted by | Ray Cornelius 

OWN has released a new behind-the-scenes video for its upcoming romantic dramedy Love Is ____. It premieres on June 19 and comes from the dynamic duo of Hollywood—Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil.

As previously reported, Love Is ____ is inspired by the Akil’s real-life relationship and “tells the love story between a modern-day power couple. In the world of Black Hollywood, they navigate a complex set of social codes and will explore it all, from the good to the bad… to the ‘90s, because that’s where the love story began. It features Michelle Weaver and Will Catlett in the lead roles. 

Love Is ____also stars Tyrone Marshall Brown, Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing, Tosin Morohunfola and Idara Victor.  The series also features veteran actors Vanessa Bell Calloway, Tim Reid, Kadeem Hardison, Lana Young, Clark Peters and Loretta Devine.

Also look for appearances by Atlanta-based actors Jasmine Burke, Tiffany Hobbs and Atkins Estimond.

 Love Is ____ is currently shooting in Atlanta, GA.

Photo Credit: Instagram/LoveIsOWN

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CW’s renews ‘Black Lightning’ for a second season

Posted by | Ray Cornelius 

Who says that lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice?

CONGRATS to the cast of the CW’s uberly successful comic book series Black Lightning. It has been renewed for a second season and I am so here for it.

Black Lightning features Cress Williams as Jefferson Pierce, a school principal who serves in both his day job and at night, as the electric-powered superhero—Black Lightning—to make his city a safer place. Rounding out the cast is Christine Adams as his ex-wife Lynn, Nafessa Williams as his oldest daughter Anissa, China Anne McClain as his youngest daughter Jennifer, Marvin Krondon Jones III as Tobias Whale, James Remar as Peter Gambi, Damon Gupton as Bill Henderson and Jill Scott as Lady Eve.

“We wanted to re-introduce a certain type of black man back into television and Jefferson Pierce aka Black Lightning was the perfect vehicle for me. He’s a father and he’s raising two daughters. He has an ex-wife who he loves. He’s dedicated to his community as an educator. He’s an athlete that he came from the neighborhood that he’s teaching and that was perfect character for me. That’s why I wanted to bring him to life,” said creator and showrunner Salim Akil, when I interviewed him this past February during SCAD’s aTVfest.

Watch the entire interview below featuring the rest of the Black Lightning cast as part of my exclusive coverage for UPFRONT and CAU-TV 23:

Black Lightning airs on Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. EST on the CW.

Photo Credit: CW

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#UPFRONT featuring the casts of ‘The Chi,’ ‘Black Lightning’ and ‘King Hedley II’ (AUDIO)

Written by | Ray Cornelius

Check out Saturday’s edition of my radio program UPFRONT featuring the cast of Kenny Leon’s True Colors production of King Hedley II. The show is playing now through March 11 at the Southwest Arts Center and features Neal Ghant, Tonia Jackson, Eugene Russell IV, Tiffany Denise Hobbs, Eddie Bradley Jr. and The Quad‘s E. Roger Mitchell. King Hedley II is directed by Jamil Jude.

The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) recently held its annual aTVfest and UPFRONT was there to capture some exclusive interviews with the cast of Showtime’s breakout series The Chi.

Yolonda Ross, Jacob Latimore and Tiffany Boone opened up about their roles, show creator Lena Waithe and much more.

Closing out the show were my interviews with the cast of CW’s new hit series Black Lightning. I got a chance to chat with actors Cress Williams, Nafessa Williams, Marvin “Krondon” Jones III, James Remar and show creator Salim Akil.

I also played some throwback sounds from Maxwell, Shirley Horn and Sara Devine throughout the show.

LISTEN NOW!

Photo Credits: RayCornelius

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Vanessa Bell Calloway, Loretta Devine + more added to OWN’s ‘Love Is ____.’

Posted by | Ray Cornelius 

OWN’s upcoming series Love Is ____ has added more star power to its cast.

DEADLINE is reporting that veteran actors Vanessa Bell Calloway, Tim Reid, Loretta Devine and Tammy Townsend are joining the new one-hour series that comes from husband and wife duo—Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil.

Love Is ____ is inspired by the Akil’s real-life relationship and “tells the love story between a modern-day power couple. In the world of Black Hollywood, they navigate a complex set of social codes and will explore it all, from the good to the bad… to the ‘90s, because that’s where the love story began. It features Michelle Weaver and Will Catlett.

Reportedly, Townsend will play Carol, the fun, sexy, bohemian mother of Nuri (Weaver). Devine will portray Betty, the sharp-tongued and insightful mother of Yasir (Catlett). Reid will play Yasir’s lifelong friend Sean, as seen in the year 2027.  Calloway is Angela in 2027, Nuri’s lifelong friend and trusted confidante.

 Love Is ____ is currently shooting in Atlanta, GA.

 Stay tuned…

 Photo Credit: James Pray

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Michelle Weaver + Will Catlett to star in OWN’s ‘Love Is ____,’

Posted by | Ray Cornelius 

Actors Michelle Weaver and Will Catlett have been cast as the leads for OWN’s upcoming dramedy “Love Is ____.” The new one-hour series comes from husband and wife duo—Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil.

As previously reported, “Love Is ____” draws inspiration from the Akil’s real-life relationship and “tells the love story between a modern-day power couple. In the world of Black Hollywood, they navigate a complex set of social codes and will explore it all, from the good to the bad… to the ‘90s, because that’s where the love story began.

According to S&A, Weaver will star as Nuri, a bubbly personality with big dreams who is struggling to make a name for herself as a sitcom staff writer while juggling an assortment of romances that only leave her partly fulfilled. After she meets Yasir, himself unemployed and barely holding onto his dreams, Nuri changes all her opinions about what she expects from a man because she’s just found the one who is perfect for her.

Catlett will star as Yasir, an aspiring writer/director who is down to his last two unemployment checks, and he lives (unhappily) with his on-and-off-again ex. But after meeting the stunning Nuri, Yasir finds a reason to alter his life and the drive to access his potential.

RC will keep you posted as casting for this show continues to develop.

Photo Credit: Twitter/Michelle Weaver

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OWN partners with Mara Brock Akil & Salim Akil for the new series “Love Is___.”

Posted by | Ray Cornelius 

OH SNAP! 

The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) is teaming up with dynamic duo Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil for a new dramedy titled “Love Is___.”  According to S&A, the network will roll it out at some point in 2018 with the husband and wife team serving as executive producers and Mara as the show runner.

The one-hour series is being described as follows:

“Drawing inspiration from their real-life relationship, the project tells the love story between a modern-day power couple. In the world of Black Hollywood, they navigate a complex set of social codes, and this series will explore it all, from the good to the bad… to the ‘90s, because that’s where the love story began.”

“I’ve dreamed of working with the Akils. I’ve been a huge fan of their work since first viewing Girlfriends. They know just how to hit the cultural nerve to make you think and laugh at the same time,” said Winfrey in a statement.

The announcement comes on the heels of BET announcing a new deal with Tyler Perry. Ironically, the Akils exited their partnership with BET in 2015 for a new deal with Warner Bros.

RC will keep you posted as this project continues to develop.

Photo Credit: OWN

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‘Being Mary Jane’ adds Will Packer & Erica Shelton Kodish to Producing Team

Posted by | Ray Cornelius

Deadline is reporting that BET’s popular Tuesday night series “Being Mary Jane” has added Will Packer and Erica Shelton Kodish to its creative team. Packer will serve as one of the show’s executive producers through his Will Packer Productions while Kodish will serve as an executive producer and showrunner for this upcoming season.

If you recall, the series creator, showrunner and executive producer, Mara Brock Akil and her director husband Salim Akil, signed a new deal with Warner Bros. TV last August and bowed out of their partnership with BET. Since their departure, the Akils have served only as consultants for the show.

Last month, Akil expressed her concerns about BET and their direction to ESSENCE:  “Although they’ve announced that Being Mary Jane is coming back, I haven’t heard anything that’s made it seem real, and I don’t know who’s running it,” said Akil. “All this time went by that I could’ve helped figure it out, but now I’m in a position where I don’t know what BET’s gonna do.”

When asked if she thought “Being Mary Jane” could go on without her, she said:

“It’s not to say that BET couldn’t make it work, it’s just that I know what it takes to be a producer and there’s so much that goes into making any show. It really would depend on that person: how do they see and view Mary Jane and Black women? If they pick someone that I don’t like, I’m gonna go, ‘Oh sh*t. I can’t watch.’ [Laughs] I hope there’s another Mara out there who’s like, “Bring it on. Give me the ball.”

Hopefully the addition of Packer and Kodish will calm any fears Akil has about this new season. I guess we’ll see when production starts later on this year in Atlanta.

“Being Mary Jane” follows the fictitious life of news anchor Mary Jane Paul (played by Gabrielle Union) as she tries to juggle family, career and romance as a single Black woman living in Atlanta. It also stars Richard Roundtree, Margaret Avery, Richard Brooks, Lisa Vidal, B.J. Britt, Aaron Spears, Latarsha Rose and Stephen Bishop.

Stay tuned…

Photo Credit: LoveBScott.com

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TV Round-UP…Rotimi Akinosho, Gladys Knight and The Akils

Posted by | Ray Cornelius

Check out the latest TV buzz below…

Rising Nigerian-American actor Rotimi Akinosho is joining the cast of my favorite new series, Power.  The 25-year-old model and singer has signed on to play a character named Dre, who is being described as a protégé of 50 Cents’ character, Kanan. Power  stars Omari Hardwick as James “Ghost” St. Patrick, a notorious drug dealer who owns the hugely popular NYC nightclub, Truth. The show also stars Naturi Naughton, La La Anthony and Debbie Morgan.

Motown legend Gladys Knight is teaming up with the cast of Empire  and will play herself in a reoccurring role. Empire  is the new Lee Daniels’ hip-hop drama that features Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson as heads of a family run music empire that is about to go public.  In addition, the Grammy-winning songstress is also gearing up to release a new gospel album, Where My Heart Belongs  and recently wrapped filming in New York City for the upcoming Lifetime movie, Seasons of Love.

Congrats to the dynamic duo of television and film production, Mara Brock and Salim Akil. The executives have been given a two-year extension on their current three-year agreement with BET. If you recall, the power couple have partnered with the network on various projects including the hugely popular shows, The Game and Being Mary Jane.

#staytuned

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Photo Credit: Web.PopTower.com

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A ‘Jumping the Broom’ Sequel is on the Way!

Posted by | Ray Cornelius 

Indie Wire is reporting that Our Stories Films and TD Jakes Productions have confirmed a sequel to the 2011 romantic comedy, Jumping the Broom,  starring Paula Patton and Laz Alonso.  Apparently, it has been rumored for quite some time that there would be a follow up to the film but nothing had been totally confirmed until now.

Jumping the Broom  followed Patton and Alonso as a couple looking to unite their very different families over a wedding weekend on Martha Vineyard. The film featured an all-star cast including Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, Meagan Good, Tasha Smith, DeRay Davis, Mike Epps, Valerie Pettiford, Pooch Hall, Romeo Miller, Gary Dourdan and Brian Stokes Mitchell.

Reportedly, the sequel will also follow “two very different families” who come together for a wedding weekend in New York City. Tracey Edmonds and Bishop T.D. Jakes are on board as producers with DeVon Franklin overseeing it for Sony Pictures.

It has not been confirmed if the film’s original director, Salim Akil will be back or if the original cast will reprise their roles.

RC will keep you posted as the project continues to develop.

Photo Credit: NPR.org

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‘Hip-Hop Sisters’ and more are coming to BET…

Female rap icon MC Lyte is starring in the new reality-series, Hip-Hop Sisters

Posted by | Ray Cornelius

Last weekend when I attended the Atlanta preview of Being Mary Jane, the series’ creator, writer and producer, Mara Brock Akil indicated that BET was re-branding itself through new programming and original series.  So it’s no surprise to us that the network has green lit four new unscripted pilots including one from Mara and her directing husband, Salim Akil.

Here is a brief synopsis of each show below:

“Hip-Hop Sisters” is an unscripted program that features six female rappers: MC Lyte, Yo Yo, Lady of Rage, Smooth, Monie Love and Lil Mama, as they attempt to re-launch their careers.

Kirk Franklin“Gone Gospel” is hosted by Sunday Best’s Kirk Franklin (left). The multi-Grammy-winner oversees a group of singers who are sent through a “Gospel Boot Camp” to help revive their careers.

“Internal Affairs” takes a look at true crime stories that focus on cops investigating their own.

“Back to Me with Jeanette Jenkins”  is being described as a makeover show centered on Hollywood trainer and fitness expert, Jeanette Jenkins. She is responsible for the rock hard bodies of such A-list clients as Serena Williams, Kimora Lee Simmons and Kelly Rowland. This project is being produced by Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil.

Also look for BET to premiere an original program based on Clement Virgo’s adaptation of Lawrence Hill’s award-winning bestseller, The Book of Negros.  According to Indie Wire, BET owns USA broadcast rights to a miniseries that will most likely air in 2014.

Kudos to BET and looking forward to the new programming!

What are your thoughts about BET upcoming programs? Will you be watching?

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‘Being Mary Jane’ was written to create dialogue amongst Black Women + PHOTOS from ATL Preview

Written by | Ray Cornelius

A number of Atlanta tastemakers recently gathered for a private screening of BET’s new feature film, turned one-hour series Being Mary Jane. The event was held on Saturday, June 8 at the W Hotel in Midtown Atlanta and featured a very lively talk-back session with the series’ producer and writer, Mara Brock Akil.

Akil is best known for her work as creator and executive producer of the hugely popular series Girlfriends  and the even bigger hit spin-off, The Game.  She is also one-half of the successful producing team that brought us the hit romantic comedy, Jumping the Broom  and the remake of the “Supremes-inspired” cult classic, Sparkle.

Mara talking 234Now Akil is teaming up with BET again for a brand new female-anthemed series entitled Being Mary Jane  that features Gabrielle Union as the title character. Originally titled, Single Black Female,  Being Mary Jane  focuses on the life of successful talk show host Mary Jane Paul as she juggles her professional and private family life and her endless search for Mr. Right.

After viewing the film, which was very well received by all the attendees, Akil talked to moderator Kelly Carter about what inspired her to create the show. Akil also expressed her sincere desire for the series to spark dialogue amongst other African-American women regarding issues of relationships, career, love and acceptance.

“There was something eventually around the 5th or 6th season of my show, Girlfriends  that I was feeling was not completely true. I thought it was getting false that these four women would get together in a restaurant for every meal of their lives and share everything. That’s not true,” says Akil. “There are so many things that I don’t share with my girlfriends because you also don’t want them to tell you the truth. Because then you have to deal with the truth and a lot of times we are not ready to deal with it. If you notice in the film, the girl who sells Mary Jane the shoes knows more about her life than Mary Jane’s best friend, the doctor. But yet you have to come back to that best friend when you have problems. So I wanted to express things in a way that I think is true.”

Later, Akil went on to explain, “I also wanted to talk about the way we as women are affected by society, particularly Black women, and how we have to become liars about who we are. We don’t have the freedom to be who we are because we are constantly being judged and we (African-Americans) are judging ourselves the most. So we are living a life of lies and I kind of wanted to have a conversation about it. In addition, I wanted to create a platform to discuss what is happening to middle class America and why we are two paychecks away from poverty. I also wanted to address the complicated nature of love.”

Being Mary Jane  will debut on July 2 at 10:30 p.m. on BET as a feature film and then return to the network in early 2014 as a regular series. Both the film and the series feature an all-star cast of supporting players including Omari Hardwick, Tika Sumpter, Latarsha Rose and acting veterans Margaret Avery and Richard Roundtree.

Check out some photos below from the screening including pics of yours truly along with a few ATL reality-stars, bloggers and City of Atlanta representatives:

DJ Tracie Steele Alvelyn Sanders and Mara Brock Akil

 Love and Hip-Hop Atlanta’s  DJ Traci Steele and Mara Brock Akil with college friend Alvelyn Sanders

Victor Jackson, Derek J, Nicole Lyons and Satchel Jester

Reality-stars Victor Jacskon, Derek J with  Nascar driver Nicole Lyons and UPSCALE’s Satchel Jester

Kwame Waters RC with Black Girls Radio Stacie J

 The Kandi Factory’s  Kwame Waters and RC with Stacii Jae Johnson of Black Girls Radio

Jahannes and Ken

City of Atlanta’s Tkeban Jahannes and CAU Professor Ken Capers

Karyn Greer Rhonda Pierce

WXIA TV Anchor Karyn Greer and UPTOWN’s  Ronda Penrice

RC with TalkinWithTami

RC with fellow ATL Blogger ‘Talking with Tami’

RC with Noree Victoria

RC with actress Noree Victoria from TV One’s The Rickey Smiley Show  

Click here to see the latest trailer for Being Mary Jane !

Photography Credit/Megan Alodie Photography

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Urban World Film Fest to open with BET Original Movie, ‘Being Mary Jane’

Posted by | Ray Cornelius

BET Networks has recently announced that its latest film project, “Being Mary Jane” will kick off the opening night of The 16th Annual Urban World Film Festival.

The original made for television movie about the life of a successful, single television anchor stars Gabrielle Union, Margaret Avery, Raven Goodwin, Richard Roundtree, Omari Hardwick, Richard Brooks and Tika Sumpter.

The film was written and directed by power couple Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, whose past work includes Girlfriends, The Game, Jumping the Broom and most recently, Sparkle.

“Being Mary Jane” which was originally called “Single Black Female” will spin off into a series starring Union.

The Urban World Film Festival takes place September 19-23 in NYC and features the best in urban cinema, digital and social media.

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TV/Film power couple to speak at the 2012 ABFF!

If you are an aspiring filmmaker or want to form your own production company or think you have the perfect script, then ABFF is where you want to be this June 20-23!

ABFF or The American Black Film Festival is returning to Miami’s South Beach with a cadre of events, master classes, parties and most of all films. One of this year’s highlights is the “A Conversation With” discussion featuring Hollywood husband-and-wife team, Salim Akil and Mara Brock-Akil. Its an intimate discussion where featured guests shares their experiences.

Salim and Mara Brock-Akil are the creative minds behind the popular sitcom Girlfriends, which ran for 8 years on the CW Network, as well as BET’s The Game.  Just last year the couple inked a three year deal with BET to produce a number new shows including their newly developed series, Being Mary Jane, which will star Gabrielle Union.

They have also made strides in film. Last year Salim directed the hit movie Jumping the Broom.  This year their production company [Akil Productions] is responsible for the highly anticipated remake of Sparkle starring Jordin Sparks, Mike Epps, Cee Lo Green and the late Whitney Houston. The film was written by Mara Brock and is directed by Salim.

For more information and a full schedule about the 2012 ABFF, log onto www.abff.com

Source: BET.com