Amid a renaissance of black women in television both on and off screen, audiences receive a vast range of representation. Thanks to Scandal’s Olivia Pope and Being Mary Jane’s Mary Jane Paul to Issa and Molly of Insecure, as well as Empire’s Cookie Lyon and black-ish’s Rainbow, scores of black American women can identify themselves within the roles we couldn’t imagine being greenlit not even six years ago. Each of these women is an individualized mix of class, profession and culture, spanning their ages of 20-somethings to 40s. We’ve watched them dance with the ideas of love, and now that romantic landscape is becoming even more diverse with Love Is lead Nuri.
The new OWN series—written, produced and powered by Mara Brock Akil (Girlfriends and The Game) and Salim Akil’s (Black Lightning) real-life romance—centers on a strong-willed, self-assured Los Angeles transplant, played by newcomer Michele Weaver, in the mid-to-late ’90s chasing her TV writing dream while leaning squarely into love.
Similar to Issa and Molly, Nuri is, at first, liberally dating while sidestepping subtle slut-shaming (much like ‘90s icon Jacqueline Broyer of Boomerang who doesn’t get enough credit). She happily juggles a long-distance, soon-to-be ex-boyfriend; a young, somewhat platonic tenderoni; and keeps the suited up guy who’s great on paper on a short leash just in case he’s the marrying type. “I’m not a ho, but I’m not a hermit either,” she says to her brown-skinned BFF Angela (Idara Victor) in the show’s premiere episode.
And like Mary Jane, she strives to sit atop the highest rung of her profession without distractions from men she doesn’t deem on her level. (“I’m sorry. I’m educated. I’m bringing a career not a job to the table, student loans pretty much paid off, homeowner. Why am I wrong if I require a brother to match my efforts as a prerequisite to marriage?”)
But unlike the majority of her TV counterparts, Nuri’s narrative, though misguided at times, isn’t steeped in torrid love affairs or infidelity and doesn’t journey through a daunting dating scene littered with the uncertainty of mutual attraction that comes with today’s never-ending stream of tweets, DMs and screenshots. She’s not merely using men for sexual gratification, nor is she perpetually “figuring it out.”
Instead, she directly chooses to temper her laser-focused ambitions with her desire to build a life outside of work (insisted upon by her mother, played by Tammy Townsend) and leans into what’s right in front of her: Yasir, a black Muslim man with hopes of becoming a director who—despite his crippled financial status, live-in ex-girlfriend and son—attracts Nuri wholeheartedly. He puts in the amount of effort “Essence Magazine imagines for us,” as Angela exclaims elsewhere, with clear intentions and honest pursuit.
It’s clear that Nuri and Yasir’s ease of courtship is a mix of made-for-TV melodrama and a sign of much simpler times. But what Love Is offers through Nuri’s story further quiets the notion that young career-focused black women have to sacrifice love to be successful. It also asserts that falling in love with a man with potential ain’t all bad.
As the series opens in 2027, Nuri’s future self (Wendy Davis) and future Yasir (Clarke Peters) are celebrating their 20-year marriage anniversary, so the happy ending is inevitable, but to what else do you have to look forward? According to an interview with Akil for The Los Angeles Times, Nuri will eventually propose to Yasir as Mara did with Salim. “I can’t wait to get to the episode where I propose to him,” she said, “because I did.”
Is every step of their storied romance a real-life fairytale? Could their long-lasting love be duplicated in a time bogged down by social media? Who knows? But the love Nuri secures for herself feels like that authentic ‘90s R&B your fave Instagram post told you about, and even as a viewer, you’ll keep tuning in for more.
Love Is ___ airs Tuesdays on OWN.