Words by: Leah Abraham
It’s not been a bad start this year for diversity in Film and TV. During recent Oscars, our bossy Queen V, Viola Davis won Best Actress, and became the first woman of colour to win the triple crown of acting awards. Mahershala Ali secured Best Supporting Actor and it all come to a head with Moonlight’s (snubbed) glory, as the film crew rightfully claimed their title of Best Picture for the enduring narrative of a queer black boy. These golden threads of global acclaim have restored our optimism; proof that filmmakers and subjects of diversity are coming thru, and being celebrated both through, and behind the lens. Add to that the glorious delivery of new female directed/produced web series Brown Girls, and it looks as though we have had a banging Feb.
For those of you who haven't heard of Brown Girls, it’s the latest sitcom treasure to surface, following the surge of millennial female-produced web series. BG cruises through the exuberant friendship of sex positive Black musician Patricia, and South Asian-American writer Leila, two twenty-somethings living in Chicago’s creative quarters.
From dwindling romances, to burgeoning one's, career anxieties, emotional earthquakes and queer love triangles, BG serves up a feast of familiar life/love experiences, painting nuanced portraits of the modern communities that co-creators Fatimah Asghar (writer) and Sam Bailey (director/producer) were surrounded by.
Fatima: “It is very loosely based on my friendship with my best friend, one I don’t feel I often get to see; two women of colour from different racial backgrounds be genuine friends on TV”
Whilst GiF chuckled over Season 1, introducing their world of hilarious antics and endearing mishaps, we are reminded that it is crucial that these female & queer narratives are being given airtime on screen. GiF managed to nab some time out of the co-creators busy schedules to chat all about Brown Girls, films and women in TV. We were fangirlin, hard…
Fatima Asghar & Sam Bailey, creators of the show. Photo by Alexus Mclane
GiF: Tell us about how the concept of Brown Girls came about, and who BG is for?
Fatimah: I started writing Brown Girls in the fall of 2015. It really started because I wanted to write a story that felt relatable to my life, with characters that I wanted to see in film and media. The story is very loosely based on my friendship with my best friend, and I don’t feel like I often get to see two women of color from different racial backgrounds be genuine friends on TV.
It’s a show for a lot of people-- for millennials, for artists, for people of colour, for queer communities. But I’ve been surprised because even people who I wouldn’t necessarily expect to like the show have been responding very well to it.
GiF: How important was it to write and cast a production consisting only of women of colour, and queer communities?
Fatimah: That was of the utmost importance to myself. I really wanted to make a show that centered on women of colour, and queer people of colour. I feel like queer communities and women of colour don’t get a lot of shine in mainstream TV and film. So I wanted to flip that, and have a show that mainly focused on those communities.
GiF: BG has already been compared to a mixed bag of female positive, diverse TV series', from Broad City all the way through to Issa Rae’s web series, ‘The Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl'. How does that make you feel?
Fatimah: I’m really flattered! This is my first time screenwriting so the reception has been very wonderful and has felt really surprising. I think that Issa is a huge inspiration in terms of the path that she has made for herself and how she has smashed all these gates and barriers. I’m really honoured to even be mentioned in the same sentence as her.
GiF: As a cross-cultural creatives, how do you feel your identity informs your work?
Fatimah: My identity feels very embedded in my work. I don’t like when people act as though their work is devoid of identity-- usually that’s just coded for being ‘white’. Identity plays a huge role in who you are, how you navigate the world, and your life experiences. What’s beautiful about identity is that even though it influences a lot of your life paths, it’s not hollow-- it’s extremely nuanced, people who occupy the same identity traits can have such different experiences of the world and personalities. I think it’s important to bring those all to the table, because it challenges biased ways of thinking. I create a lot of my work out of my intersecting identities because I don’t think enough stories are told from those intersections. I want to make sure those stories get told.
Sam: I think it influences my work on every level, but the way in which it does is, as Fati said, very nuanced. I don’t wake up every day and think: “How will I walk through the world as a black woman today?”...but sometimes I do. Most importantly, I think my identity influences the stories I want to tell. Because writing and directing are my focus. I do feel a responsibility to tell stories where WOC can be at the center. I don’t see that as a burden, I see it as an opportunity to add to the narratives that get told.
Producer/director Sam Bailey on set.
GiF: What sort of emotional experience do you want to bring to viewers?
Sam: For me, I just wanted to give people a space to breathe and laugh and see versions of themselves reflected on screen. Fati and I are both really invested in making these characters human and multi-faceted and I think when you’re able to accomplish that, people are naturally going to be drawn to their stories because they’ll see nuances that are familiar to them. I just wanted to give Leila, Patricia, and all of the characters really the same type of care and space to grow, and be frustrating and messy like straight white characters get to be.
GiF: Have you both seen the British channel 4 production Chewing Gum (written/produced by British Writer/Actor/Poet Michaela Coel)?
Sam: Yeah, I love that show. I think Michaela is so very needed in TV right now, I love her voice.
Fatimah: That show is incredible. I just showed it to my sister, who had never heard about it. We’ve been rewatching it together.
Leah Abraham is regular GiF contributor and you can follow her on @Refleurberate