Creators of OWN’s groundbreaking docu-series Black Love, Codie and Tommy Oliver discuss entrepreneur
Director and producer Codie Oliver alongside her husband Tommy, a filmmaker and cinematographer in his own right, developed, created, and independently financed Black Love, the hit docu-series on the Oprah Winfrey Network. Black Love highlights couples in the black community, each sharing about the intricacies of love and marriage. The show has featured renowned celebrity couples including Viola Davis and Julius Tennon, Tia Mowry-Hardrict and Cory Hardrict, and Meagan Good and DeVon Franklin.
The idea for Black Love mushroomed in 2008, when Codie became frustrated with the narrative about Black women and marriage. Subsequently, she met Tommy, and they set out to produce Black Love as a documentary. However, after shooting over 50 interviews, they decided to produce a docu-series to provide more in-depth stories.
This power couple is championing Black love but behind the show, they are a real-life example, balancing a family and business. The duo hosted their third Black Love Summit in November 2020, where Black singles and couples gathered to experience “transparent conversations about love, partnership, and community.”
We sat down with Tommy and Codie to discuss entrepreneurship, how the Black Love docu-series started, and their advice for couples in business together.
VIP: How did you come up with the idea for the Black Love docu-series?
CODIE: I initially had the idea for Black Love as a single woman in graduate school. There was a narrative about black marriage crisis in America. Outlets reported that black couples weren’t getting married or staying married as long as other ethnicities, and that black women were least desirable and were the most alone. On top of that black women are often told the more degrees they have, the less likely it is that they will get married. Hearing that portrayal of black men and women time and time again was sad and depressing for me and my friends. I knew that narrative was false, but if you’re not careful, you can internalize that type of negativity and believe fiction to be true.
Successful marriage among black couples existed, but the stories weren’t easily accessible. Our people didn't see positive examples with couples who looked like them in relationships on film and television. It was then that my vision for Black Love evolved.
VIP: You were engaged in 2014 when you began filming Black Love. Walk us through the process of coming together to work on this project.
CODIE: I filmed several interviews while doing PR full time for Canon Cinema Cameras. Tommy and I met at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, when he was a full-time filmmaker. Within weeks of dating, I told him about my idea for the Black Love documentary and he wanted to start right away. Canon agreed to loan us film equipment and we immediately began shooting couples.
TOMMY: There was so much about love and being in a relationship that I didn’t know. I didn’t grow up seeing longstanding or healthy marriages, so this project was a way for me to absorb information from couples who were trying to do it the right way. I wanted to be a good husband, and this was an opportunity to learn what I could do to make sure Codie and I have a successful marriage.
VIP: What was the process to find couples to interview?
CODIE: Over the years, I curated a list of couples I wanted to interview for this project. It included politicians, celebrities, and athletes, as well as the parents and grandparents of our friends. I wanted to have a mix of famous and non-famous people, so we started with couples we knew. We contacted our friends, Tia Mowry and Cory Hardrict, and reached out to couples we networked with years prior. Then, acquaintances and friends we interviewed began recommending other couples for the project. It was that simple, but it was several years in the making. I had a clear vision about what I wanted Black Love to be and what sharing it could mean for our community.
VIP: In discussing marriages, it’s easier to talk about the happy times, but I’m sure you also wanted couples to talk about their struggles and how they overcame them. Let’s discuss more about that aspect of the show.
CODIE: Discussing how marriages survive trying times was just as important as seeing representation of happy black couples in entertainment and the media. Highlighting relationships that have been tested, and spouses who have struggled to grow stronger as a unit really mattered to me. We stripped it down and simply had a husband and a wife talking about their relationship. The stories are authentic and relatable because they’re all couples who work together to make their marriages work.