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Why Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil Shared Their Love Story in ‘Love Is__’

Love is… getting my way,” Mara Brock Akil joked at the premiere of OWN’s new scripted series “Love Is__” Monday night. The series creator was standing on the carpet alongside her husband, director and producer Salim Akil, ahead of the premiere screening at NeueHouse in Hollywood when she explained why there was an empty space in the series title.

“There is not one definition of love and we are supposed to fill in that [space] for ourselves,” Mara explained, adding that it needs to be a commitment between people.

While Salim has collaborated with Mara on a number of projects, including “Being Mary Jane” and “Black Lightning,” he admitted to being hesitant about disclosing aspects of their personal lives onscreen.

“I wasn’t ready to do it, [but] Mara was,” said Salim. “I think part of the theme of ‘Love Is__’ is love realizing you can’t allow another person to do anything. If they respect you enough to ask your opinion, you can can give your opinion but she’s a grown woman independent of me. So as an artist, she should be able to do what she wants to do… but I wasn’t down with the s—.”

The series follows a blossoming TV writer (Michele Weaver) who meets and falls in love with an aspiring director (Will Catlett) in ’90s Los Angeles. Mara admitted that while the “essence” of their relationship throughout the story is captured and many details are factual, other moments have been altered for the show.

“It is an inspired by story and it needs to be so that the story can stay compelling and intentional for what the show is,” Mara said. “The pilot sort of nails a lot but as the season of courtship goes on, we manipulate some of the facts so that Nuri and Yasir can be ambassadors for this idea that love is achievable if you define it for yourself.”

The Akils’ love story made Oprah Winfrey want to bring the series to OWN almost instantly.

“Mara walked in with this story about her actual courtship with Salim and before she even finished the pitch, I said: ‘Yes I’m in,'” Winfrey said. “I think the intimacy, the tenderness, the true affection, the real trust and the most important — wanting you to be the best you can — that’s what real love is, and I’m so excited for people to see it play out in a way that they will absolutely recognize.”

Following the screening, stars including Weaver, Catlett, Kadeem Hardison, Idara Victor and Tyrone Marshall Brown attended the reception where Winfrey made a toast to the new series with tequila shots.

“Love Is __” premieres June 19 at 10 p.m. on OWN.

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