A visit to the cre­ative hub of “Black Light­ning” showrun­ner Salim Akil.

‘Black Light­ning’s’ showrun­ner in­vites Va­ri­ety into his home to show how his space in­spires his se­ries

Variety - - Contents - IN­TER­VIEW BY DANIELLE TURCHIANO | PHO­TOGRAPHS BY JES­SICA CHOU

“If you bury me in a grave, don’t ever come visit — be­cause you won’t find me there. You’ll find me in the books that I’ve read, the mu­sic I’ve lis­tened to, and the art I've cre­ated,” Salim Akil tells his fam­ily. The cre­ator of “Black Light­ning” who was pre­vi­ously known for “The Game” and “Be­ing Mary Jane,” sur­rounds him­self with works that in­spire him to cre­ate both at the Akil Prods.’ of­fice that he shares with his wife, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Mara Brock Akil, as well as his home of­fice. Up next for the cre­ative duo is “Love Is___” for OWN, which is based on their own re­la­tion­ship. African In­flu­ence Akil has a few pieces by Peter Beard, whose art he is drawn to be­cause of its "raw na­ture." One is of an ele­phant in Africa that makes Akil feel “closer to the Earth, closer to re­al­ity"; another in­cludes a lion and a naked woman. “What ap­pealed to me was the to­tal­ity of it — she's fear­less, the lion is fear­less,” says Akil. “A lot of peo­ple don't turn their chil­dren's heads away from vi­o­lence, but they do turn their chil­dren's heads away from nu­dity. To me, that's one of the most nat­u­ral things about life. It doesn't have to be sex­ual. It just is.”

Put That Record On

Mu­sic has been a big in­flu­ence on Akil, us­ing Ka­masi Wash­ing­ton when he wants to ex­pand his mind, and Car­men Mcrae and Bil­lie Hol­i­day when he needs to get in the ro­man­tic mind­set for a scene. It’s not just the sound that mat­ters to him, but also the phys­i­cal­ity that comes with se­lect­ing and plac­ing a vinyl record on a turntable that makes him grav­i­tate to­ward the old school, even though he ad­mits he also loves tech. “Emo­tion­ally, the idea of be­ing in there writ­ing and then walk­ing and lift­ing and pulling some­thing out — you're touch­ing it and you have a more in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship with it,” he says. The love of mu­sic runs in the fam­ily: Akil’s son God­holly put to­gether “Black Light­ning’s” main theme song, as well as a num­ber of other tracks the show used through­out its first sea­son.

Be­fore ‘ Black Pan­ther’. . .

When he brought “Black Light­ning” to life on­screen from comic books, Akil wanted to keep the theme of the tit­u­lar hero be­ing “some­one who wants to pro­tect his com­mu­nity and some­one who is grounded to the com­mu­nity.” Those were the el­e­ments he was most at­tracted to in the books, and he had the comic cre­ator Tony Is­abella sign his fa­vorite is­sue for him to have it framed and dis­played in his of­fice. “The story is him reflecting back on his life, which if you watch the first sea­son fi­nale, ties in greatly,” Akil says.

Po­etry Caus­ing Mo­tion

Akil col­lects first-edi­tion books, and when he stum­bled across a first edi­tion of James Bald­win’s “Jimmy’s Blues” that just hap­pened to be signed by the au­thor, it felt like he was get­ting a per­sonal mes­sage from the man. Akil con­nects with Bald­win’s work be­cause he says it’s about be­ing con­scious and stay­ing con­nected to the peo­ple. “A lot of peo­ple who are go­ing through their daily lives in ru­ral Amer­ica and in the cities are trapped in their own com­mu­ni­ties by vi­o­lence or drug use,” Akil says. “In ‘Black Light­ning,’ we start in the com­mu­nity and we work our way out to say how are these guns and these drugs and why are these guns and these drugs in the com­mu­nity.”

Hon­or­ing His Queen

Akil feels like he has an “an­gel that keeps him grounded” in his life: his mother. “She al­ways told me I was go­ing to do what I'm do­ing. She told me I would meet kings and pres­i­dents and queens — and I have,” he says of the woman who was an artist her­self. (She was a singer who cut a few al­bums and opened for per­form­ers such as James Brown.) Be­cause she is the “supreme in­spi­ra­tion” for ev­ery­thing in Akil’s life, he made sure to hang her photo a lit­tle higher than the other pieces in the space.

A Fam­ily Draw­ing

Af­ter Barack Obama won the elec­tion for the sec­ond time, Akil, his wife and his two youngest sons had a chance to pose for a photo with the pres­i­dent. When Akil re­ceived the print back, though, he noted that the photo didn’t re­ally re­flect his fam­ily be­cause it was just them, posed, in front of a solid-color wall. He doo­dled on one copy to give it a lit­tle more life and hung it on the wall op­po­site the ta­ble at which he sits and writes to re­mind him how far peo­ple can come. “This man’s name is Barack Hus­sein Obama — and he’s black. If that doesn't tell you any­body can ac­com­plish any­thing if they re­ally put their minds to it!” Akil says. “If I ever get a lit­tle big for my britches or a lit­tle down, I look at this and I'm like, ‘Man get over your­self.’ ”

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