|The ‘Girlfriends:’ LaVeris/FilmMagic|
By Brenda Alexander
Like many, I was disappointed in the lackluster season 8 finale, which turned out to be the series finale (cancellation), of Girlfriends. Fans who grew close to the characters and related to their relationships, were left with no real resolution, or even a happy ending. After years of failing in love, Joan Carol Clayton had finally found it in her fiance Aaron, only for him to be deported to Afghanistan. Free-spirited, once homeless, always jobless and sexually free Lynn Searcy had found steady work and passion as an indie artist with a record deal and an uncertain future at her label. Our beloved “5th girlfriend” William and his wife Monica were pregnant; and, I can’t even remember what the hell was going on with Mya and Darnell post his mid-life crisis gig as a race car driver, their son acting a teenage fool and Mya’s rise and stagnant position as a black self-help author. The most devastating part of it all was that we never got to see a reconciliation between longtime frenemies Joan and Toni. Talk about a cliff hanger?! I mean, I have the series on DVD and watch it from beginning to end in a repeated cycle because I feel like I was robbed of a proper ending.
Naturally, fans yearned for closure and after years of talk from the show’s creator and petitions from fans, it looked as if a Girlfriends movie was on the horizon. Mara Brock Akil, creator and writer of Girlfriends, has expressed her disappointment in the way the show ended and explained to ESSENCE’s Yes Girl podcast:
“It was hard not to give them an ending. I’m very connected and passionate about what I put out in the world, and I want to get things safely to shore. Back in the day, I would have done it for $5 million, or make a dollar out of 15 cents to tell this story.”
In separate interviews, the cast has said they were down to bring the show to the big screen and the script was already written. But, things are now at a standstill thanks to the gatekeepers in Hollywood who do not see the value or return on their investment to fund a Girlfriends movie.
|Mara Brock Akil|
According to Brock Akil, she’s practically given up on the project until she’s given a budget that will do the film justice. In an interview with Vulture, she says she’s tired of fighting for what she knows both she, and the culture, deserves, and she’s not going to rush to get it done.
“Yeah, you can tell any studio in town: If they got 50 to 60 million, I already have the script. We can make an epic story and we can make a lot of money, but me hustling and knocking on doors begging to do this story is not where it is anymore. It deserves somebody to see the value in it and write that check…Begging someone to see the value of Girlfriends, I can’t do it anymore.”
A decade ago when Girlfriends was cancelled, I could see (and I say this lightly) why studios and funders would have this perspective. I mean, they phased all of our shows out by networks merging. Remember: UPN, which housed Girlfriends, Eve and Everybody Hates Chris, and was primarily black programming, merged with the WB, which was not, and thus The CW was born. Aside from BET, there was no black content. Scripted content, let alone black, was almost non-existent as reality tv took over with practically no cost for cast or production. Today, however, that is no longer the case. In a world post Black Panther, Girls Trip, Think Like A Man and any other film or tv show that’s drawing in hundreds of millions of dollars and are killing it in ratings, the logic that an-all black female led film wouldn’t top the box office is bs.
The relevance of Girlfriends is there. The show has remained in syndication with a steady fan base since its cancellation. So the issue can’t be gender, especially considering Girls Trip was one of the highest grossing films of 2017 with a sequel in the works. Additionally, in the past few years, we have proven that black talent surpasses all expectations at the Box Office. I don’t need to remind the world of the money that Black Panther pulled in. The problem instead are white studio heads and investors who view our stories as not important and unrelatable….to what they perceive as a general audience. They can fund a franchise of Sex In The City and Hangover movies with no problem despite the subsequent follow ups receiving subpar reviews from both critics and fans. But, they seldom take a chance on us, despite the power of the black dollar which a recent study shows circulates and has a lifespan of 6 hours.
This is why it is important for black film companies to not just fund black projects, but also leave the creative control of said projects to its owner. I wonder if Mara has presented Girlfriends to the Will Packer’s, Ava DuVernay’s or Lena Waithe’s of black Hollywood. Has the opportunity to co-fund such films between the powers that be in black Hollywood been presented? Where is the public outcry from Mara’s black filmmaker friends to get this project funded? Doing so will keep integrity of the projects and voids input from people who are not of color to tell our stories. More importantly, it also keeps the money within the black economy. I’m not even opposed to some sort of crowdfunding. After all, we are constantly chanting #SupportBlackBusiness. Why not put our money where our protests are?