If 2016 was any indication, audiences are basking in the glory of more diverse television shows. From Atlanta to Insecure, there seems to be an increase in programming about Black millennials. But there’s one narrative that hasn’t been at the forefront and Brown Girls aims to change that.
Based in Chicago, Brown Girls is a web series centered around two young women of color: Leila, a South Asian-American writer on the brink of owning her queerness and her best friend, Patricia, a “sex-positive” Black American musician struggling to commit to anything.
The on-screen relationship mirrors the real-life friendship of Brown Girls creator and writer Fatimah Asghar and the show’s music consultant, poet and vocalist Jamila Woods. And the diversity extends off-screen with nearly all of the cast members being either women, people of color and/or queer.
“There’s a moment in the series when Leila comes out to her sister. After the first take, there was a huge, heavy pause on set,” explains Sam Bailey, the director and producer behind Brown Girls. “There were people in the corner crying because they’re getting the chance to tell their story in an authentic and personal way. There are so many people behind the camera who’ve lived that.”
JET: After watching the trailer, Brown Girls comes across as a love letter to female friendship. What can you tell us about Leila and Patricia’s friendship?
Sam Bailey: They’re awesome and completely non-judgmental toward one another. If they are, it’s out of love and comedy. I can’t remember the last time we’ve seen that on screen. Even in Insecure and Girlfriends, it’s solely Black women. In the series, you really get to watch their friendship blossom. The energy is palpable and we really wanted to explore that.
JET: And it tackles real issues without beating you over the head about it. What was that process like?
SB: I really didn’t want the series to be full of these teachable moments, you know? People are really living their lives like this. If they were all White people, you wouldn’t think twice about it — it just becomes the status quo. We wanted to take that same idea of people being people, but making those people Black and brown. They’re living in their skin, which is revolutionary in and of itself.
JET: Absolutely. GLAAD recently reported that “more than 25 queer female characters have been killed off” TV shows since the beginning of 2016. What kind of message do you think that’s sending queer women?
SB: I don’t get why that is. It’s like this idea that you can’t be a minority in any way and have it not be tragic. There’s the tragic gay character who commits suicide and it becomes a teachable moment. While those stories definitely need to be told, it would be beautiful to see people live their lives and be loved and see their lives continuing through. There needs to be a balance. Where’s the character that gets to be happy today? It doesn’t have to be one narrative.
JET: What do you want people to walk away with after watching Brown Girls?
SB: I would really like for brown and Black people to see it and see a piece of themselves on TV. I remember watching Awkward Black Girl and feeling like OMG! To see yourself on TV, even at 27, is still revolutionary. We want people to see people who look like them on screen and feel less alone in the world, especially now. It’s super important to say your story is important and it’s valid. You’re human and that’s valid. I really do believe representation matters in that way.
*Series art by Olivia Willoughby
A journalist turned nonprofit PR pro, L’Oreal Thompson Payton is also a blogger and freelance writer with a passion for empowering women. When she’s not busy writing, she can usually be found reading, dancing and eating her way through Chicago. Learn more about her at LTintheCity.com or follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @LTintheCity.