Lesson From A Married Man: My Interview With Salim Akil
It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally, when interviewing a subject for a story, there comes a transcendent moment. I don’t know when or how it usually happens in the moment, but I can always tell when the interviewee and I have gone from a formal discourse to personal dialogue, when we’re not just having an interview, we’re having a conversation. The professional in me is thrilled at this because I know it means I will have a wealth of material from which to work when I start writing. But there’s something even more enriching to come out of such a moment.
For me, an enriching conversation with a stranger reminds me of why I got into this business in the first place. Sure, I wanted to talk to the famous people of the world and create good stories from my conversations with them, but more importantly, I am always in search of a lesson from them of some sort. There are things I have learned in life from reading great interviews, so when I’m approaching my own interviews, I’m always hoping to find something teachable, something that a reader can apply to their own life. Do I want to illuminate and break news within an interview? Of course, that is my journalistic responsibility. But I will admit, the selfish part of me also wants to get hip to the game of life. For the most part, I have the privilege of talking to who I want to talk to and I’ll be damned if I let such a privilege be wasted on just the facts. I always try to get to a point where we’re going off the record because I know we’re about to talk about something real, for lack of a better word.
There was nothing off the record during my conversation with Salim Akil. For the unfamiliar, Salim is the director of Jumping The Broom, the brand new movie that came out Friday and went on to make over $14 million at the box office this past weekend. He is also the husband of Mara Brock-Akil, a woman who has slowly but surely become a force in Hollywood. She created the hit series, Girlfriends, and then along with her husband The Game, and she has arguably been the more visible and more successful half of the couple. As I mention in the opening line of my story with Salim, when I was doing my research for Salim, there was more about his wife, than him. Considering their careers as individual, this made sense, but it also enforced my belief that Salim’s story needed to be told.
Salim and I talked for an hour and a half but a lot of things. We discussed his childhood, his years climbing the ranks of Hollywood, and his time on the set of Jumping The Broom. As an interviewer, you often have to butter up your subjects with some softball questions to get them to open up about the more personal things. I was ready to apply this strategy to Salim so I could get down to the nitty-gritty part of my story which was, how did it feel to be in the background of his wife’s profile as someone who was trying to accomplish a similar type of success in the same field?
One of my first questions was, what was the biggest adjustment he had to make in his transition from directing a television series (The Game) to directing a feature-length film (Jumping The Broom)? His answer was suprising and refreshing. The man said the biggest adjustment was not having his wife on the set, working with him. I write this in my story (a link to which I provide at the end of this post), but what I didn’t get to go on about in my final piece is all the other things he talked to me about concerning his wife and his marriage.
I have met and talked to a lot of married men, some of whom are my closest friends, and I will be completely honest, when it comes to talking about marriage, a lot of men suck at it. Often times they either are trying to sell it to you by imposing their own happiness onto you (“Man, it’s great! You gotta do it!”, or they’re trying to steer you away from it (“Man, it’s hard. Take your time.”) Very rarely do I meet men who look completely comfortable being a husband.
Salim was one of those men. There was a lot we discussed, there was a lot he said about being married to not just any woman, but a woman who is so successful. He revealed to me that it was she who proposed to him, a random factoid I didn’t know. He also spoke about their first date, which is when he said they both knew they were in love. All of this was nice stuff to hear, and I could certainly print out the transcription of what we said, but really, it won’t do the conversation justice, and what he said about marriage wasn’t nearly as important as to how he talked about it.
What I learned from Salim during our interview was that matrimony isn’t about being happily married so much as it’s about being comfortably married. Happiness is cool, but comfort is king. This wasn’t anything Salim said, this is my interpretation of what and how Salim spoke about marriage. Salim is one of the coolest people with whom I’ve ever talked, and that cool remains when he talks about his wife. Here was a man who before he was married, had a child at the age of 14 (according to the math and what he told me, which you will read in the story). A lot of people say it was Mara who brought him into the game, when really it was his own work that got him attention from Showtime and helped jump start his career as a writer on the series Soul Food where he was to the rank of executive producer. Yet, here was a man who knows people often snicker he wouldn’t be where he was without his wife. Here was a man who is completely comfortable with saying it’s kind of true. When I asked him what he thought of the perception that his wife wears the pants in the family, here was a man who said something I will never forget:
“I don’t know who runs our house. Mara would probably say me, I would probably say our boys [Salim and Mara have a 7-year-old son and a 2-year-old son]. That old way of thinking is probably what would be keeping those brothers and those sisters of having a decent relationship because if you’re so busy worried about who’s running things, you’re fighting that fight. I’m fighting a different fight if at all. I’m certainly not fighting a fight in my relationship, my focus is on raising healthy boys and maintaining a loving relationship with people around me. I’ve seen what fighting for position can do and I’m not interested in that. If someone needs to define themselves in those terms, hey, God be with you. With me, I’m just not interested in it and I wouldn’t be interested in a woman who is interested in it because we got bigger issues, man. We got bigger issues to worry about than who’s running things. God is running things.
If interested, click here to read my story on Salim Akil, and if you haven’t seen Jumping The Broom yet, do yourself a favor and go do so. That film is damn good.
The Process: I appreciate the patience you all have had with my lack of posting. I made the announcement last week via my Twitter and Facebook, but not here. Two weeks ago, I started my job as the Arts & Culture reporter for The Huffington Post and their new Blackvoices. So yeah, it might mean I’m posting less frequently here, but it certainly doesn’t mean I’m doing less work overall. If anything, I’ll be doing more work. I’ll do my best to keep things updated and lively here. Take it from the title of this blog, it doesn’t die until I get married and even then, who knows? Peace and love y’all.