Codie Elaine Oliver is the co-creator of the OWN-powered docu-series, ‘Black Love.’ The show, which is in it’s sixth season, features a star-studded cast of celebrity couples. They transparently share their challenges and triumphs on the journey of love, marriage and relationships.
The series has featured the likes of Tina Knowles-Lawson and Richard Lawson, Grant and Tamia Hill, Chance and Tabitha Brown, and more. And is kicking things up for the last season with a cast that includes Adrienne “Gammy” Banfield-Norris and Rodney Norris, Remy Ma and Papoose, DJ Envy and Gia Casey and more.
Oliver sat down for an exclusive interview with 21Ninety and shares why birthing this docu-series was so important for serving the Black community. Also, what she has come to learn about the union of marriage, and what she hopes the audience has learned over the show’s five-year existence.
Jadriena Solomon: We are now in the sixth and final season of ‘Black Love’ which premiered on the Own Network on Saturday, July 23rd. Through having an inside look at a plethora of Black relationships and marriages, what have you noticed, or what do you feel, couples are most surprised to learn about the union of marriage?
CEO: ‘Surprised’ is an interesting word. I would say through the couples that we’ve interviewed – which at this point has been 250 – it’s ‘work’ and ‘communication.’ We’ve been taught for years that communication is key and relationships are work, but then we get into them and make assumptions about what that means. We learn that communication isn’t just to make sure that you’re talking, it’s making sure that you’re talking and listening, efficiently. It’s making sure that you’re paying attention to your own and your partner’s body language. All of that is included in communication and really can ruin things for a couple or give them success.
And the same with work. People think that it’s just getting up in early to have sex in the morning, or taking that extra step to pick the kids up from school. But the ‘work’ that I’ve come to understand is self work. It’s making sure that you understand who you are and what you bring to the table – as far as baggage, trauma, gifts, weaknesses, etc. And then applying yourself to make sure that you’re bringing your best self to the table for your partner and family. It’s not just about making time and working through arguments, it’s also about looking at yourself from an emotional and personal standpoint as well.
JS: The couples discuss overcoming obstacles such as: accepting monogamy, the fear and dis-illusion of marriage, infidelity, and so on. From what you’ve observed, what would you say is that overarching theme that couples struggle with the most? Is it having transparent communication, is it being fervently trustful of your partner, or is it remaining in united timing?
CEO: I honestly would say that it isn’t one overarching thing. And that’s why we wanted to do this show. We wanted to allow for conversation around all kinds of things that couples struggle with – whether that’s dealbreakers, fear of abandonment, clinginess, jealousy, or anything like that. Those are the things that we have to identify within ourselves and our partners. So while I wouldn’t say that it is any one thing, if I had to pick something then I would say it’s truly recognizing what’s happening in your relationship.
People criticize infidelity stories but I found it important to include that. So we have DJ Envy and Gia Casey. Envy spoke about learning to understand his insecurities that he carried from his years as a teenager – not really dating then getting into his first relationship at 16 years old and them being together for 27 years. He spoke about going from this awkward teenager to suddenly being this popular figure, and that drastic life change playing a part in him being unfaithful. That choice is obviously a huge regret of his, but I’m always fascinated by the comeback story. And that goes back to understanding the ‘why’ behind any mistakes that were made during the relationship and the ‘work’ that was required to fix that. That’s the key to getting through anything.
The other part is commitment – the commitment to being committed. The choice to say ‘I choose you and I’m going to do whatever I have to do to get through this.’ On both ends.
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JS: At one point in time it seemed as though marriage was this traditional, concrete concept – you find the right partner, you get married and you’re in it for the long haul. But as time has evolved, we’re noticing a shift in how marriage is viewed and accepted – especially among the Gen-Z generation. Many of whom don’t even see marriage, or a long term marriage, as a tangible goal. What is your view on that? And how do you think a show like ‘Black Love’ can possibly help maintain and portray a positive perspective for younger generations?
CEO: I cannot imagine what it’s like to be a part of Gen-Z – the freedom that they have, express, and feel. But I 100% understand that because the divorce rate is 50% and there’s a Black marriage crisis – all the things that led us to create ‘Black Love’ – it’s not a cake walk. And I think the younger generation is definitely aware of that.
Relationships aren’t perfect and this generation understands that they can do and be whatever they want to do and be. They have the freedom of choice, more so than my generation and those before us.
And so, where does ‘Black Love’ fit in that? My hope is that the transparency that we’ve shown through the series is able to serve as an example to that generation on how to make informed decisions. To look at a plethora of couples, stories, and relationship structures of highs and lows and be able to say ‘I want that’ or ‘I don’t want that.’ I hope ‘Black Love’ aids our community, at any age, to make the best decisions that they can about relationships.
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JS: What do you think, and hope, viewers will come away from this final season having learned about relationships, love and marriage?
CEO: I hope that our community is able to take away joy and hope from ‘Black Love’ – whether you’re in a relationship or not. Happy love is possible and the reason we created the show was because the media and entertainment landscape was telling us the opposite. Showing that we don’t deserve to be treated as humans, saying that we can have healthy families and marriages. And so my hope is that the show has contributed to proving the opposite.
I hope that it shows that the journey is not easy but we can do it, and people really take heed to the call to work on themselves in order to truly happy happy, loving relationships – and not just in romantic love. But also in love of self. In love, grace and forgiveness of others. So that we can pass that down to future generations as well.