For Codie Elaine Oliver, co-creator and director of the popular OWN docuseries Black Love, the conclusion of the series may be the end of an era, but she’s hopeful that the movement to amplify and celebrate our stories will continue.
The popular show will air its sixth and final season on OWN, premiering July 23. Codie, who created Black Love alongside her husband Tommy, reflects on its five-year journey and the series’ profound influence on the conversations people have about love.
“To have impacted a handful of people would have been success,” she tells ESSENCE. “But to have people stop you on the street and talk about what Black love means to them—it never gets old.”
The show premiered in August 2017, drawing in 1.2 million viewers and breaking the record for the most-watched unscripted series premiere on OWN. It didn’t lose its momentum, holding the number one spot for a non-sports cable telecast in its time among African-American women.
“I think the show has been successful because nothing like it had been done before,” she points out. “To see Black love in a relatable way allowed people to see themselves reflected in the series.”
The creation of Black Love started in 2014 when the Olivers were newly engaged. They decided to use their filmmaking and storytelling abilities to seek out a village that could be of support in their growing relationship. Somewhat of a whirlwind romance, the couple were engaged six months after their first encounter and married just a year and a half later.
As the two filmmakers worked on their own union, they sought ways to learn from other couples. A personal quest for the two would soon become a larger-than-expected mission impacting millions worldwide.
While the overarching theme of the series has always been to showcase diverse images of Black love, the Olivers wanted to do it in a way that was honest enough to show that “Black love isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it.”
The authenticity found from the vulnerability of couples has allowed the docuseries to capture viewers’ hearts in a special way.
“Tommy and I have always approached the interviews just the two of us and the other couple. There are no other people in the room,” she says. “We looked at them, couple to couple and said, ‘we want to get where you are in five, 10, or 50 years’ and that was enough for them to open up.”
Stories have ranged from light-hearted topics such as first encounters and falling in love to those with more serious undertones, like mental health issues and overcoming infidelity.
Codie said it was essential to show the imperfections, pointing out that discussing cheating was just as important as having conversations about bankruptcy.
“These people didn’t say they had it all figured out. They just cared enough to stay and work through issues,” she says. “Even in the stories of infidelity, I began to also see the story of accountability, humility, and the commitment that it took for the offender to work their way back into their partner’s life. Most of the people who went through infidelity that we talked to, it broke their relationship wide open and allowed for healing and rebuilding.”
The Olivers interviewed more than 250 couples over the years, including Viola Davis and Julius Tennon, Tia Mowry and Cory Hardwick, Ryan Michelle Bathe and Sterling K. Brown, Tamia and Grant Hill, Erica and Warren Campbell and more.
While only some of the couples (close to 80) would actually be featured on the series, they were personally able to collect pieces of wisdom and insight from them all along the way.
Codie admits that advice from Vanessa Bell Calloway, who appeared in the first season, helped she and Tommy get through an argument that occurred early in their marriage.
“Having her to call on and others has been instrumental in our marriage and for me as a wife and a mother,” she says.
The parent of three says that outside of the personal relationships built with the couples, the docuseries as a whole has been just as empowering to her as it has been to viewers.
“We hope that it will be other people’s village,” she says. “We are leaving y’all with six seasons and 70-plus couples that can be your village.”
The four-time NAACP Image Award-nominated series may be wrapping up, but the Oliver’s commitment to telling stories concerning our love will continue through their growing media company, Black Love Inc., which delivers both digital content and live events.
“Black Love has become a part of who I am. And it always will be,” she says. “Ultimately, we want people to watch the final season and everything else that we do and be reminded of how worthy we are of love. This has been a meaningful journey to me so far, and I’m happy to close out this part of it with these incredible couples and their inspiring stories.”
Black Love premieres Saturday, July 23 at 10 PM on OWN.