Tuesday's 90-minute film will set the stage for an eight-episode series in January.
Mary Jane Paul is a successful, single black woman,but the woman who created her says there's something universal about her that everyone will understand.
"She's human. That's what I wanted to show, (that) this woman is a person that we all can relate to," says Mara Brock Akil, the creator of Being Mary Jane, a BET movie airing Tuesday (10:30 p.m. ET/PT) that will become the cable network's first original drama series with an eight-episode run due in January.
Mary Jane (Gabrielle Union), who hosts her own show on the fifth-ranked cable news network, is a smart, beautiful 38-year-old who yearns for more, both professionally and personally.
The character wants "a husband and a family and more job stability and a bit more freedom that comes with success," Union says. "She's flawed. She's chasing perfection, and she's falling dramatically short and dealing with the consequences of not having it all in every aspect of her life."
Mary Jane has a complicated relationship with her family, which includes a mother who's ill, a brother who's dealing pot and a pregnant niece. "She wants more independence for her family so she can go back to just being a daughter and sister as opposed to a caregiver, which changes the familial dynamic," Union says.
Union was drawn to Being Mary Jane's 360-degree look at its title character. "You don't normally see every aspect of a character's life: home life with their families, work life, their life with their friends and their love life."
Akil, executive producer of comedies Girlfriends and The Game, says her dramatic turn provides more leeway to reveal the character.
"I've been looking to express all sides of this woman's humanity," she says. With half-hour comedy, "we don't have the time (and) you've got to keep it always funny. And life isn't always funny."
The movie has its lighter moments, too. "This character uses humor to deal with her challenges," Akil says.
Although it aims for universal relevance, the movie, with a supporting cast that includes Richard Roundtree, Margaret Avery, Lisa Vidal and Richard Brooks, also addresses concerns specific to the network's core audience. At work, Mary Jane wants to pursue a story about social perceptions that black women aren't attractive. Her mother has lupus, which affects black women more than some other groups, Akil says.
Being gets intimate with Mary Jane, showing her pulling notes from the walls and shoving stuff under her bed when a lover arrives, primping for dates in the bathroom and dealing with the ups and downs of relationships. It shows her failures and delves into infidelity, contraception and masturbation.
"Mara allows the audience to see everything that goes into Mary Jane, whether that be the calls with her mother or her Post-It notes, her constant reminders of the person she wants to be," Union says.
Akil adds: "I wanted to show those raw, real sides, the secrets that we keep to ourselves, so that maybe we can see ourselves and say it's OK."
Near the beginning, the film cites statistics that 42% of black women have never been married, although it then says that this is one black woman's story and not representative of all.
"She's more than just a percentage number. She is a person, and this is what she's going through," Akil says. "And maybe you'll walk away with a little more understanding and compassion for her."