You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Black Lightning’ Boss on How an Artful Life Inspires His Work

“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.

Salim Akil Office
CREDIT: Jessica Chou

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.”

Salim Akil Office
CREDIT: Jessica Chou

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.

Salim Akil Office
CREDIT: Jessica Chou

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.

Salim Akil Office
CREDIT: Jessica Chou

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.”

Salim Akil Office
CREDIT: Jessica Chou

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.

Salim Akil Office
CREDIT: Jessica Chou

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.’ ”

More TV

  • Donald Trump

    HBO Fires Back at Trump's 'Game of Thrones'-Inspired 'No Collusion' Tweet

    HBO is firing back at President Donald Trump after he sent another “Game of Thrones”-inspired tweet in response to the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation. “Though we can understand the enthusiasm for ‘Game of Thrones’ now that the final season has arrived, we still prefer [...]

  • Joel Edgerton Headshot

    Joel Edgerton Joins Barry Jenkins' 'Underground Railroad' Amazon Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Joel Edgerton has signed on for a role in the Barry Jenkins’ Amazon series “The Underground Railroad,” Variety has learned exclusively. Edgerton will play the part of Ridgeway, a slavecatcher. He joins previously announced cast members Thuso Mbedu, Chase W. Dillon, and Aaron Pierre. The role will mark Edgerton’s first regular TV role in some time. [...]

  • LAST MAN STANDING: 150'th Episode: L-R:

    'Last Man Standing' Renewed at Fox

    “Last Man Standing” has been renewed at Fox, Variety has learned. This is the second season of the family multicamera comedy that will air on Fox, but the eighth season overall. (Its first six years were on ABC before the Alphabet canceled the series. Fox picked it up a year later.) “‘Last Man Standing’ roared [...]

  • Lauren Corrao

    Freeform Taps Lauren Corrao to Replace Karey Burke as Original Programming Head

    Lauren Corrao has been named executive vice president of original programming and development for Freeform. Corrao takes over the role from Karey Burke, who was named the head of ABC Entertainment in November following the departure of Channing Dungey. Corrao will report directly to Freeform president Tom Ascheim. In her new position, Corrao will oversee [...]

  • Allison Mack Sex Cult

    HBO in Production on NXIVM Sex Cult Documentary Series

    HBO Documentary Films is currently in production on a documentary series exploring the NXIVM sex cult case, which implicated former “Smallville” actress Allison Mack among others. The series, which is to be directed by “The Square” and “Control Room” helmers Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, will follow a range of people who joined the NXIVM [...]

  • Barry Killing Eve Pose

    'Barry,' 'Killing Eve,' 'Pose' Among 2019 Peabody Winners (EXCLUSIVE)

    “The Americans,” “Barry,” “The End of the F***ing World,” “The Good Place,” “Hannah Gadsby: Nanette,” “Killing Eve,” “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj,” “Pose” and “Random Acts of Flyness” have been named the entertainment winners at this year’s Peabody Awards, Variety has learned exclusively. Additionally, “Sesame Street” has been named the winner of the Institutional Award [...]

  • Les Miserables BBC

    BBC's 'Les Miserables' Recreates the Dark World of Victor Hugo's Novel

    Director Tom Shankland didn’t want his “Les Miserables” to be anything like the stage-musical version of Victor Hugo’s sweeping historical novel, nor like the 2012 Tom Hooper feature-film musical.  For the BBC limited series — a drama starring Olivia Colman, Lily Collins, David Oyelowo and Dominic West, which aired the first of its six episodes in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content