Powerful Black women friendships will never get old, especially with upcoming shows like Leimert Park on BET. Starring Asia’h Epperson (Kendra), Ashley Blaine Featherson (Mickey), Ashli Haynes (Bridget), Wade Allain-Marcus (Alex), Mike Dolphy (Steven) and more, director Mel Jones, associate producer of Dear White People, leads a show dedicated to Black women friendship and sexual awakening.
Set against the backdrop of one of Los Angeles’s most iconic Black neighborhoods, this story was inspired by real roommate life experiences. The raw and unapologetic nature of each moment explores dating, love, and overall fulfillment.
BGN was able to catch up with Mel Jones and Wade Allain-Marcus (Insecure) to discuss the importance of sharing the narratives of Black women, especially when it comes to sexual expression and authenticity.
The truth is, we can never have too many shows that reflect the narrative truth of Black women. This amazing team has it covered, combined with the unique essence of the Black Los Angeles community.
On the Importance of Telling Authentic Stories For and By Black Women
Jones shared that Leimert Park premiered about three years ago before recently being picked by BET.
“I thought then, this is ahead of its time. In a lot of ways, even when we started developing it, if you can believe it or not, there was no Insecure. Insecure didn’t exist at the beginning of the development process,” Jones explained.
She went on to add, “We actually started shooting Leimert when Insecure started shooting its first season. Our process of making it took a lot longer.
But it’s just amazing that, even now, after Insecure, there’s still a space for it and that it still feels fresh.”
Jones illustrates the timelessness of exploring a dynamic range of friendships between Black women on screen, as her show dismantles the monolithic depictions that the media has historically portrayed.
“I think we’re having all these conversations as we have, over time and historically, around women’s rights. And a lot of times, we [Black women] are left out of those conversations, even if we’re the ones who begin them, who start them. I think it’s so important for us to have a space to tell our stories because when you think about Black people, you think about Black men. That’s just the way that the world is set up. When you think about women, you think about white women. So, there are hardly ever many spaces carved out for us,” Jones shares.
She expresses how the visibility Black women want and need is often overlooked and ignored, but she uses her platform as a director to bring them to the forefront in Leimert Park.
Similarly, Allain-Marcus explains why he believes it’s so important for Black women to be represented in Hollywood and beyond.
“I think to give the onus of the story into the hands of Black women is totally revolutionary because for so long, obviously, we know that Black women have been sexualized in ways that aren’t in their hands to be able to tell their own stories. So, then, to be in the hands of Mel Jones in this story is how it was basically being like, no, obviously we are sexual people, but we want to be the ones to tell those stories, not other people, and try to basically give our stories away when we can tell it truthfully and authentically,” he explains.
Both Jones and Allian-Marcus are passionate about changing the way the stories of Black women are told while ensuring they come from the Black women who actually live them.
Why It’s Vital to Explore the Sexuality of Black Women
What makes Leimert Park both intriguing and exciting is its fearlessness when it comes to taking a deep dive into the sexuality of Black women. So often exploring the need for Black women to have pleasure has been completely dismissed. Jones, however, is ready to bring it center stage.
“I’m really into this idea of a Black woman seeking pleasure on film and in our images and in our content. I think that is super important for all of us to see Black women. I mean, a Black woman was the first person that we know was on the Earth. No matter who was the first person for real, they came from Africa,” Jones says.
She alludes back to how Black women who express themselves sexually are too often portrayed as doing “dirty work” or being victimized by the media, and it’s time to challenge those depictions.
“When we really think about how somehow from the beginning of time to now, we usually see ourselves in sexual situations when we’re using our body as commerce, as a way to get things or when there’s sexual violence. That’s typically what you’re going to see. I think part of why I wanted to make Leimert was to create something that reflected my experience as a Black woman and a Black woman who likes to have sex and who thinks that it’s important and that respectability politics should not prevent us from expecting certain things and voicing the things that we want,” she says.
What Makes Leimert Park So Special
With continual gentrification and infrastructural changes around Los Angeles neighborhoods, especially Black ones, Leimert Park is like a love letter that pays homage to the neighborhood’s history while also honoring its past.
“This is just really the truth of it. Leimert Park is an absolutely magical place. It has a deep and rich history of Black art; people coming there to get filled up and to go out into the world and to create. And when I came there, having come from the East Coast, I really felt that in that space. I really felt connected to it. When I would have to go out into the white world, I would be able to come back and fill up in Leimert, in the same way that when I didn’t live in LA, I would fly back home to get myself together and nourish myself enough to get back into the rat race,” Jones shares with BGN.
She went on to unpack more of her admiration for Leimert Park that inspired the show. Jones says, “I think for me, it was a love letter, because I appreciated it. I’ve gained so much from being in Leimert. I thought it was only right to shine a light on something that has had such a great impact on me. And also knowing that at the time and even now, gentrification is real and the neighborhood is changing. Even living there was a part of that change. I don’t think we all always talk about that.”
For Allain-Marcus, Leimert Park holds a similar significance. “I think that, for the most part, only one type of LA has really been promoted to the world in terms of the Beverly Hills and the beaches and all white spaces, for lack of a better word. I think that something that obviously Insecure has done and that Leimert is doing as well, is really celebrating these other parts that are so uniquely LA and yet don’t get the same type of love or shine or visibility.”
Growing up in Los Angeles, Allain-Marcus sees the importance of seeing his Black spaces honored both on and off screen.
Leimert Park is available on BET+.
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Danielle Broadway is an English Literature MA student at California State University, Long Beach. She has been published in Black Girl Nerds, LA Weekly and Medium, is a writer for CSULB’s the Daily49er, is a managing editor for Watermark, her school’s academic literary journal and is an assistant editor at Angels Flight • literary west. She’s an activist and educator that is inspired by her family to make social change both in the classroom and beyond.