When the trailer for Brown Girls popped up on our timeline, in all its melanin glory, we were all levels of excited, and you should be too. We caught up with Fatimah Asghar, the writer behind the series to talk about the importance of telling stories of female friendship between women of colour, queerness, white feminism, and PoC creating work for PoC. This series goes far beyond tokenistic representations and gives us the nuanced, complicated, multi-dimensional black and brown characters we’ve been longing for. We’re now pretty much just holding our breath now until the series is released in February 2017.
As you read this interview, we suggest you check out the Brown Girls theme song by Jamila Woods, Lisa Mishra and Dee Lilly.
Skin Deep: What was the last album you listened to?
Fatimah Asghar: The last album I listened to was the soundtrack of Bajirao Mastani. I listen to that album when I take a shower like every day. I love the movie so much and the soundtrack is amazing. I keep coming back to it.
SD: Why did you decide to tell a story about female friendship between two women of colour?
FA: Friendships between women of color are so important to me, they are literally the relationships that have made me who I am and that make me feel the safest. I had never seen a friendship like the ones I have with different friends of color. I think usually TV shows and films sacrifice the representation of friendships among women for things that they think are more ‘interesting’, like physical relationships or career. I don’t think that those things are more interesting, nor has that been my life’s experience. My friendships and my love for the different communities I am a part of is what keeps me going, creating and living in the darkest of times. I also don’t think media or TV often shows friendships among different communities of color, or interracial friendships. So what I wanted to create was a show that celebrated those friendships, those communities and the joys that exist there.
SD: As someone who watched the tv show Girls in the hopes of seeing meaningful portrayals of mid-twenty-year-old girls like me trying to figure things out, I was really disappointed both by the lack of diversity but also the completely unrelatable plotlines. In some ways, your show seems like the intersectional and more inclusive response to mainstream shows like Girls.
FA: In honesty, I’ve never seen Girls. This show isn’t meant to be a response to a specific show or anything like that. Though I haven’t seen Girls, I’ve heard a lot of my friends of color talk about it, and voice their feelings of betrayal about how Girls promised to be a show for all women and how they were super excited but then the show only showcased a lot of story lines about white womanhood. I think, as a woman of color, things like that can be very hurtful. It kind of shows just how people don’t count women of color as women, how they don’t think it’s important to showcase our stories or create characters like us that are well-rounded and not disposable. As far as that sentiment goes, Brown Girls is very much a response to that idea. We wanted to create a show that really had full characters, that showcased many different people of color living relatable lives.
SD: It’s an interesting time for you to be making your web series, especially since Issa Rae’s Insecure, which also started out as a web series, has now made it onto television and has received very positive reviews. Brown women on television abound (or at least more than they did a few years ago), yet it still seems like unless you’re discovered on the internet or you’re Shonda Rhimes, it’s still hard to get your show on television. Did you start out making a web series with the hope that it would eventually become a television show?
FA: I really love Issa Rae and Insecure. She’s a huge inspiration and her path, how she created a career for herself is really motivational. I’m new to film, but I know how hard it is to break into the film/ TV industry. I’d love to be able to do it, but also I want to work on projects that make me happy. Brown Girls started as a story that I wanted to tell, I wasn’t really thinking about the long-term vision of it. I was also really inspired by Sam Bailey, the director on Brown Girls, who had written, directed and starred in her own web series called You’re So Talented. I would love if Brown Girls became a TV show, however I also think that mediums like web series are so cool because you really get to control the vision and the journey of them. You can really challenge media and institutions by creating things like that, by taking the control into your own hands. So I think it’s really useful to think of web series as their own genre.
SD: One of the characters on the series is a South Asian girl in her mid twenties who is, as you put on your website, just now beginning to own her queerness. Fatimah, you’re also currently working on an anthology with fellow poet Safia Elhillo titled ‘Halal if You Hear Me’ (which is a great title by the way!) that aims to celebrate the intersectional identities of Muslim women, gender nonconforming individuals and transwomen in an attempt to dispel the notion that there is only one correct way to be Muslim. All these endeavours bring forth representations of Muslim women that we haven’t really seen in mainstream culture before. Do you feel there is a particular urgency to get these stories out at this particular moment?
FA: The anthology is actually meant for anyone who is Muslim and also a woman, gender nonconforming, queer, or trans. It’s not just limited to femmes, but something that we wanted to open up to all kinds of people who are marginalized, or are not often thought of or heard when you think of the term ‘Muslim’. I think in a moment where Trump has been elected to be the United States president off the back of a campaign that spewed all kind of racist, misogynistic and islamophobic rhetoric, it is really important to create projects that showcase the complicated identities of people who are under attack. Last week at my school a boy threatened to light a muslim girl on fire for wearing a hijab unless she took it off. This is the world we live in. I’m tired of it, and I’ll do anything in my power to combat that kind of hate and injustice. I think creating art and media that uplift the voices and stories of marginalized people is of the utmost importance.
SD: Are you currently working on any future collaborative projects?
FA: Right now the projects that I am working on are Brown Girls, ‘Halal If You Hear Me’, and a manuscript of poems that I am trying to get picked up. I love working with Sam, and am super excited about the possibility of working on collaborative projects with her in the future.
SD: Where can our Skin Deep readers watch Brown Girls?
FA: They will be up on our website www.browngirlswebseries.com