If you ask filmmaker Tommy Oliver, he’ll tell you he accosted Viola Davis and husband Julius Tennon in a Los Angeles parking lot. His wife Codie Elaine Oliver, also a filmmaker, thinks “accosted” may be too much sauce to describe the encounter, but hey, they digress. Tommy admits their initial meeting was unorthodox, but the couples had mutual acquaintances so it wasn’t completely bizarre. “I was a fan of Viola, and wanted to say hello. Julius is very nice and he gave me his information and he said you can reach out at any point. I didn’t reach out for a long time, mostly because I don’t believe in wasting people’s time and want to be respectful.”
For about a year, Tommy and Codi went back and forth about what their documentary project Black Love would be, and after deciding upon a concept, Viola and Julius became couples high on their list of interviews. Tommy sent a text, Julius responded immediately and the two agreed to be featured for the candid sit down. Then in August 2017 after interviewing more than a dozen couples, their four-part series premiered on OWN and became an instant hit. Black Love presented answers to stubborn questions that have rivered their way through generations of the black community. From newlyweds to couples that have been together for decades, everyone featured spoke candidly about the power and perseverance of black love.
Tommy and Codi’s continued desire to show love’s prevalence for black married couples is back and on full display for Season Two. Premiering Saturday (May 9) on OWN, the married directors who are “always shooting” interviewed 25 couples–some celebrity, some your next door neighbor–from across the nation to get a fresh perspectives on more than just marriage, but maintaining a connection even through the roughest of patches.
“Every once and a while we’ll say, ‘You know what, I would really love to talk to someone who’s been through this,’ ” Codi said during a phone interview of their process. For the second go-round, Tommy and Codi chatted with Vibe about Season Two, the new couples cast, the stories told and the lessons learned that they’ve brought into their relationship.
VIBE: What can black people take from Season Two of ‘Black Love’?
CEO: There are so many things. I would say first and foremost just know that love exists for us, love and life-long partnership. A lot of this came from this media narrative that there’s this black marriage crisis and that black women are undesirable and all these negative things that were said about us and our ability to have life-long love. If nothing else, I want someone to watch this and go “Oh, there are happy black couples out there.” There are happy black people out there in loving relationships, I can be one of those. To me, that’s the first thing.
TO: I think oftentimes on film and TV black families and black couples are rendered poorly. It’s a two-dimensional representation of what actually happened. For us we want to show nah, there are real couples. Beyond those poor renderings, beyond things like The Cosby Show, there are actual couples out there that make it work. We are your neighbor, your grocer, your banker, your cousin’s grandparents. People are out there and they’ve made it for decades and to be able to see that and to understand how they got there. We see relationship goals. We don’t see the compromise. We don’t see the commitment, we don’t see the struggle, we don’t see all the things that it really takes. Normalizing part of that struggle while showcasing that there are black married couples that make it work.
What did you both learn from the lesser known couples this go round?
TO: I just want to preface it by saying we don’t treat any couple any differently. It doesn’t matter if you’re super famous and you’ve got an Oscar, or you’re just a couple who makes it work and you’re not famous. It doesn’t matter at all. That’s one of the reasons why you don’t see professions or last names or any of that because it’s really about your relationship. It’s not about your status or your career.
CEO: I think it’s important to tell the “how did you meet story” because a lot of us feel like it has to happen a certain way, especially women, maybe men too, but we have a couple who the husband was in the Navy when they met and the wife was a makeup artist. They met and went on their first date, it was magic, and the next day he was deployed for eight months. Basically for a year and a half every time he would come back from deployment, even though they were emailing and talking and they had all these amazing dates, every time he came back she was in a relationship. They maintained a friendship because he just felt like she’s super genuine and I do really like her, so we’ll just be genuine, honest friends. Every time they would go on a date and then he would get deployed and then she would be like ‘Oh, I’m seeing somebody.’ Ultimately, I’ll let you watch to find out how they got together, but I loved that story because it was an example of things don’t happen the way that you think they should sometimes, and to just be open.
TO: One thing that stood out to me was the idea that your relationship is your relationship. There was this one couple where the guy says, and people are going to watch this and they’re going to be like ‘stupid number one, stupid number two’ because they’re talking about the stuff they went through and how they managed to still be together after infidelity on both sides after all sorts of stuff, but for them, it’s their relationship. It’s not about what anybody else thinks of it.
Did you bring any of the lessons learned into your own relationship?
CEO: Why are you laughing?
TO: I’m laughing because It’s a great question with a loaded answer, partially because we’re the benefactors of so many couples. Them being honest, their dozens of years of having been in it, but there’s a difference between hearing something and actually applying it to the point of it being muscle memory. There are these things that we’re heard, all these great things that we’ve heard, and it’s us figuring out which ones work for us, first and foremost and the work to actually implement that. It’s not just knowing it, but it’s understanding it and applying it in real life. Otherwise, it becomes what we try to avoid but also it shows platitudes. It’s this really cool thing that sounds great, but if we’re not living it then it’s just talking. I try my best to not just talk. I try hard to implement stuff, and that doesn’t mean I’ve succeeded and there’s a lot of stuff I can do better at. That’s why I laughed because I can say all these things but how well am I actually doing those right now? Probably not as well as I should be.
What’s your sign?
CEO: I’m a Scorpio. There are so many lessons and I agree with Tommy wholeheartedly. There’s one thing we hear and we go “Oh, I like that.” You’re just not going to be perfect, especially not right away. One of the things that seem like a small thing, but I know is important to him and that was something that Dewanda Wise said which was marriage is like self-love for two. If I get a cup of coffee, I’ll make you a cup of coffee. For me, that’s not something that I organically do. I’m like if you want something, you see me go in the kitchen, tell me what it is you want. But for Tommy, it’s like I just need to know that you’re thinking of me. It’s something that is work on my part to remember that and try to just do that. It seems small, but I know how significant it is for him
Was there at any point in filming Season 2 where you heard a story from a couple and your reaction was like ‘Nope, I’m done. If that were me I would’ve been gone?’
TO: Before I answer that question, you know you hear about an overnight success, which is usually a 10-year story but all you see is the overnight success. The relationship goal, that hashtag is the same idea. All you see is the nice, all you see is just a snapshot and you don’t really see what it takes to get there or what it took to get to that place. From watching, what we try to do with our show is to show that process and the stuff in between.
CEO: You would totally be out if I cheated on you. We know this. We know this, these are facts. It’s not a deal breaker for me, but it’s a deal breaker for him. However, because it’s a deal breaker for him and I’ve known that our entire relationship, it’s kind of become one for me because that would mean so much if he cheated. If any of these interviews were I would be out? Probably not, but I have this fascination with all the things that can happen in a marriage and we know people get through them, somebody’s getting through them. That’s part of what drives me in this whole process. I just want to hear about everything and how you got through it.
What’s the one attribute about your partner that you really wish you had?
TO: She’s a lot nicer than I am.
CEO: Do you wish you were nicer? He said that I’m nicer than he is, which is a fact, but I don’t think you wish to be nicer.
TO: That’s kind of true.
CEO: I’ll go first, how about that? Tommy is able to juggle a lot of things and do it well. I am not. I’m kind of tapped out at a certain number of things. It’s just like ‘Nope I can’t do that next thing.’ I do certainly wish I could juggle more.
TO: One of the things you do better than me is, she’ll talk to her friends that are far away for hours on text message every single day.
CEO: Not every single day. I’ve got stuff to do.
TO: But you do. You maintain the friendships and the emotional connections with them very well. That takes time and effort. I’m a guy and we have different relationships but there are friends I don’t talk to as much and I probably do a better job at that. I think that’s something that she does very well.
CEO: That’s sweet. Thanks.
TO: I love you.