Anyone who knows me KNOWS i fan HARD about ALL things Erika Alexander. To an 80’s baby, a BLACK 80’s baby, Living Single was the ALL above the ALL, lol. That show was far beyond its years, and there will never be another like it. Erika Alexander and her husband, Tony Puryear, are also the creators of one of my favorite comic books, Concrete Park. Alexander has been heavy in the television era for many years now, and thoroughly respected not only by the black community, but the art community as a whole. It is a HUGE honor for me to be interviewing my best friend in my head, and i will always remember this one. 🙂
Concrete Park; Pop cult; Actress-Writer-Producer
MOVIES/SHOWS/BOOKS you’ve created and/or worked on::
Concrete Park, The Boys Choir Of Harlem Movie, The BFF Chronicles, Living Single, The Cosby Show, Last Man Standing, Deja Vu, Love Liza.
I was first introduced to you watching The Cosby Show. “Cousin Pam” was always one of my favorites, being that your personality was extremely relatable. It was also beautiful to see her story develop, even if for only a short time. You didn’t seem to be trying too hard to fit any mold. I loved Living Single, but i REALLY related to your character on TCS. How in a positive light did your experience on that show and with Bill Cosby help advance your acting career?::
The Cosby Show was the biggest show in television history and it happened to feature a family of color with one of the most famous comedians on earth, Bill Cosby. I was added to the cast the last two, seventh and eight, years of the show. During that time the hit show was transitioning to end it’s historic run, nevertheless, the boost to my career was incalculable. That said, because “Cousin Pam” was an ‘axillary player’, my stint on the juggernaut series did not typecast me for future roles, so I wasn’t pigeon-holed.
Living Single was the first show of its kind. Many, including myself, feel that it was the blueprint to the show, FRIENDS, which pretty much copied its exact formula and storyline. Maxine Shaw was the woman of ALL black women in television history who took no sh** PERIOD. It was VERY refreshing to see a woman who was professional, successful, and highly comfortable in her sexuality. What was it like to play on a show with such a wonderfully balanced cast?::
As an actor I’m a hired gun, I don’t get to pick who I get to work with, the casting director, the producers and the studio sort that all out. Casting is a process of actors being sifted through all types of filters and, as such, the casting is often bungled. Strong casts are always in danger of being watered down to fit all sorts of random requirements. So I am always delighted when a production has great chemistry and a strong cast. Casting is an art, but the result is divine. One never knows how the material, crew and cast will gel once we are all together. Our Living Single cast were all talented, independent, strong-willed personalities. A recipe for disaster, maybe? But that powerful mix of talent and temperaments made magic on our set.
Are you happy with how Maxine Shaw developed over time? Would you change her at all?::
Yvette Lee Bowser was the young, talented, female show runner who had the daily, hard task of deciding where the show went and how each story line developed. Max followed her yellow brick road and I was the vehicle she rode in. We did not always agree, but Max is a combination of both our visions.
Do you think shows like Living Single and Girlfriends fit the mold of what exists today on television, especially in relation to black love portrayed on television now?::
I think new generations expect shows to reflect their times. If we constantly compare our favorite programs to what’s new we’ll always find fault or get overly nostalgic. I think the real issue for a diverse creator is making a quality show. Television, all culture, is a living, breathing organism. Good, bad or ugly everyone wants the opportunity to contribute to the landscape. Yes, people of color have a harder challenge contributing because of institutionalized racism, but the quality of what we create on tv, film and stage is often in our hands and we must do better. When we get the opportunity to show n’ tell we must sure we have the knowledge, skill, and sophistication to produce our A+ game. Shows come and go, quality is timeless.
Many were heartbroken when the show LOW WINTER SUN ended, including a few i know who played on episodes of the show. I thought the casting was phenomenal. It was based here in Detroit, but ended too soon. Please for people who don’t know, describe your character::
Well, my character, Louise LC Cullen, worked as a detective in the police department of Detroit, assigned to a corrupt precinct. Detective Cullen did not get much to do first season. Nevertheless, Low Winter Sun had a phenomenal cast. Unfortunately, despite powerful performances by Mark Strong and Lenny James and it’s lead in AMC’s Breaking Bad, viewers did not latch on. Our show runner, the talented Chris Mundy, did not get to re-adjust his story and the show was canceled. For all involved, the chance to work in Detroit, soak up Motor City and it’s mighty people was fantastic.
What was your experience like in Detroit while taping Low Winter Sun? What impression of our city did you leave with once the show wrapped up?::
“Louis LC Cullen” may not have had a large presence on the show, but Erika Alexander did her damn thing in Detroit! I got soaked with love and care by everybody. I was treated like a native daughter of Detroit. I love Detroit. I still have friends there and I consider myself an unofficial ambassador. Detroit is an iconic, American city in transition, full of promise and challenges. Storytelling is part of it’s DNA. I’d like to work there again. I hope to soon.
CONCRETE PARK by far is one of my favorite comic book series. I’m really looking forward to the next trade paperback in April, as well as my son. It’s love, it’s hood, it’s aliens. I’m SET, lol. Please give the uninformed a loose description of the storyline.::
Thank you Maia for your enthusiasm and support for Concrete Park. Tony and I are showbiz veterans, but we’re new to comics. Telling stories is a tricky business and your encouragement has helped us along the way. Like a lot of science fiction, Concrete Park is a story about now. Earth has sent its poor away to another planet, Oasis, to mine for resources. In our new world we ask this question: Will earth’s orphans recreate the tribalism and hatred they experienced on earth or will they make something new?
How was the concept originally developed?::
My brother Robert had an interesting title and I made story around it. Inspired by the film City of God, along with a bit of Franz Fanon radicalism and Australian colonization, we created new characters, rivalries and made new rules for our new world. Then Tony rolled up his sleeves, took out his Japanese brush pens, poured himself a big glass of ice tea and we were off to the races!
How hard is it for a project to sell that isn’t typical? Is it harder to impress with it being from a mainstream publisher, or does that make it easier?::
I don’t know what’s “typical” for this genre. By definition, speculative fiction gives a lot of leeway to creators. Many publishers are looking for unique voices, but most still require creators to have strong, storytelling chops. We’re with big indie, Dark Horse and have been treated well there, but we’ve had to prove ourselves every step of the way. The comic book community has welcomed us too, perhaps because many creators responded to our book. That said, it is always hard to make friends in new places, especially if one is perceived as an over-dog. Ultimately, I believe we are judged by our work and we will continue to work hard and focus on making a good story. In the meantime, we’re grateful to those who have generously given us advice, guidance and support.
What is it like to work side by side with your husband? Is there ever conflict in creativity, or does it make the executed journey easier?::
Tony and I have very strong personalities and opinions, not always an easy combination, but we’re also magic together. We have similar tastes, set high standards for ourselves, and are willing to work hard and learn new skills to get results. Of course, we have disagreements, but in the end, our projects must get done, decisions must be made. Working from home is convenient, but it can also mean we do not ‘turn off’ and our home can feel like an idea factory. We are artists, but we are also card-carrying couch potatoes. We are learning how to balance it all. We’ll let you know when we work out a formula.
What was your favorite movie roll you played and why?::
I’m awfully fond of Lena in La Mission with Benjamin Bratt, who also directed.
The BFF Chronicles is your web series you share with your best friend, Living Single co-star, Kim Coles. It is HILARIOUS, and it is AUTHENTIC. What made you all decide to do a YouTube series, and will more develop from it? Is this a pitch for more to come?::
Thank you. We have loads fun doing the BFF Chronicles, but like all comedy it’s challenging. Kim asked me to do it years ago and I agreed, but we wanted make sure the show was solid and well produced. Thank goodness for friends, friends and more friends. A team of talented people I knew came together and what you see is the result. Is it a pitch for a future show or series? Yes, it is. We’d like to do more BFF, bigger, better. We are looking for sponsorship now and may crowd-fund future seasons. Stay tuned.
Do you feel that predominantly black comic book conventions are a good thing for Concrete Park to participate in? Why or why not?::
All conventions are good for Concrete Park. Participation in markets of color is mandatory, but not to the exclusion of other cons. Sure our product may not always receive the same attention or sales in every market, but an artist should tell his or her story to the world. Go where you’re invited, but knock hard on doors that are closed.
Do you think that sexism exists in comic book industry? (I will ask this every week, America, so deal with it, lol)::
Sexism exists everywhere, so of course it exists in the comics industry too. Women have fought to be heard in the male-driven, super-hero worlds created by men in the ’30s through the ’90s. Those worlds were power fantasies, traditional mythologies, and gave women very little room to be subjects and not just objects. That’s changing. Women creators are changing it. Evolved men are changing it. Now audiences must buy and support that change.
What do you feel needs to be changed in order for the advancement of women in the comic book industry?::
Access. It’s all about access. To money, to publishers, to marketing, to press. To make progress, women must make money. If the big money players don’t think they’ll make money with a title, then they’ll reproduce the same thing over and over again. Change is hard. Women know it, are used to it and we will advance despite it.
You have been very outspoken about social injustice as well as police brutality. Has it affected your career at all as far as jobs?::
Social injustice affects everyone, but it disproportionately affects people of color. As a black woman I am doubly affected, and as an actress it limits my work opportunities.
We complain about the lack of diverse shows, but fail to see the connection between black-pathology propaganda, poverty porn, the prison industry and their contribution to the obliteration of black alternative dreamscapes from film and television.
A steady diet of blacks and browns portrayed as the bad guys, the problem, the poor, the vulnerable, the angry, the ignorant, the homeless, the aliens… conditions mainstream audiences to accept a distorted version of black life. It’s been drilled into their heads that blacks are inhuman, are monsters, and should be treated as such. Law enforcement responds violently to those indoctrinated fears and feels justified doing so.
Films and TV are a powerful way to contradict those distortions by unmasking the real monster and reflecting the corrupt mindset that created the racist system that plagues us now. It is imperative we create worlds with people of color as leaders, as heroes, as romantic ideals, as fathers, as daughters, with full dimensions, flaws and all.
Stories give us our humanity back. Those worlds have to be created. Fans asks me all the time why don’t they see me more? Well I’m here, working. Creating, writing, and advocating, trying to dismantle a broken system. That takes time.
Ok, less serious stuff- if you could any two TELEVISION characters be your homies in real life, who would they be, and why?::
Frank Underwood from House Of Cards. I’d have to watch my back, but I like his style.
The Khaleesi from Game of Thrones. That chick has dragons. Nuff’ said.
If Maxine Shaw and Olivia Pope (Scandal) went to a coffee house somewhere in Ferguson, Missouri, what would THAT conversation be like?::
Max and Olivia? That meeting sounds more like a negotiation. They are both high-stakes players who do not shrink from doing the hard things. I believe it would be a chess match, but I believe they’d find a way to partner up to aid in the struggle.
Cookie Lyon (EMPIRE) takes cousin Pam (THE COSBY SHOW) shopping at a local urban mall. What does cousin Pam ask for?::
Cookie takes Cousin Pam shopping. Well, Pam was college bound, so she’d ask for books, a good pair of shoes, a suit and some condoms.
Are there any new or upcoming projects/events you’re brainstorming?::
Concrete Park Volume Two is beautiful and is in stores April 29th, and valuable for pre-order on Amazon.com now. http://tinyurl.com/qhqzklm
I’m writing a movie about The Boys Choir Of Harlem.
My original comedy series, The BFF Chronicles with Kim Coles and me is out now on YouTube. https://www.facebook.com/TheBFFChronicles
I also have new exciting ventures and partnerships. I’ll make those announcements soon!
Where can we find you online? Links, Handles, Hashtags, Bribes::
Any last thoughts, screams, rants, praises, etc?::
Maia, I love your power and beauty. Thank you for creating events and articles about artists of color. Congrats on your MECCACON success. Much love to Detroit!
MECCAcon Weekly is a weekly series of features, interviews, and highlights, all focused around comics and art, mainly centered around the AFRIKAAN diaspora community. We focus on the upliftment and advancement of arts thru various mediums. #MECCAconWeekly can also be found on our sister site, DARK MATTERS.
“BLOOM WHERE YOU’RE PLANTED” …This is my motto. Whatever environment you come from, whatever your surroundings or financial circumstance, there is ALWAYS room to grow, flourish, and BLOOM.
Maia Williams, also known as “Crown”, is executive assistant to many different businesses, artists, and events in the Metro Detroit area. Crown is also CEO and founder of