New web series features friendship between women of color— and they’re not the sidekicks

Brown Girls at CAAMFest

The new web series Brown Girls is a refreshingly authentic show about two close friends — Leila, a South Asian writer and Patricia, a Black American musician encountering new challenges in their mid-twenties. Brown Girls is not a canned “multicultural” show with a sprinkling of brown sidekicks. Leila and Patricia’s friendship is not portrayed as exceptional nor romanticized. Anyone who can immediately find recognition in this particular friendship will hear echoes of their own conversations in this series.

Brown Girls is also a reflection of people living against the grain of check-box societies. In the first episode we get a glimpse into Leila’s double life of presenting herself as a good mosque attending, non-sex having, diligent worker to her auntie all the while her Latina lover/on and off again sex partner and smoking paraphernalia in her room reveal a more nuanced life. It moves beyond the typical storyline about young women encountering conflict with more socially conservative immigrant family elders. It ventures into intimate portrayals of intersectional lives between friends of color.

Patricia and Leila are constantly processing different aspects of their lives as exceptionally close friends do and the issues prevalent in so many Black and Asian communities emerge in a normalized, candid way. These conversations about the everyday lives of young women of color like Leila and Patricia has been sorely lacking. They are desperately needed in our national climate that hardens Black and Muslim bodies as not fully knowable and often positions them as incongruently oblique as Americans.

Writer and poet Fatimah Asghar and director and producer Sam Bailey discussed their newly launched web series and some of the exciting feedback they have already received via email. Brown Girls is a part of #CAAMFest35 and will screen on March 16 at the Alamo Drafthouse in San Francisco.

—Mitzi Uehara Carter 

Tell me a little about yourself and how you came up with the idea of Brown Girls? And why a web series?
Fatimah: I’m a poet and a multimedia artist. 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. It was my first time writing for screen, which was very exciting. I decided to do a web series because I felt like it was a good way to try the genre of screenwriting, and because I love web series. It also offered greater control and agency in terms of carrying out my vision and not having to compromise. 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.

What kinds of conversations were you envisioning between a South Asian American and a Black American that would give us all that “yes, finally” feeling. It felt so natural and heartwarming to hear a conversations like theirs.
Fatimah: The story and scenarios just felt very natural to my own experiences. I come from a lot of different friendships that are interracial. I’m very interested in what happens when we look at these these interracial friendships and can kind of mute whiteness. So often in America things are told in a binary fashion between whiteness and everyone else. But what happens when we look at that everyone else and start to examine the ways these other communities interact. I’m really interested to see those conversations come up more.

These are just conversations that feel natural to me and my friend groups. I wanted to create a space that felt like this was an authentic dialogue, and not something that was forced or ‘edgy’. That shit is wack to me. I wanted to create a show that represented my life and my friends, and being queer and wanting to highlight queer communities of color just led very naturally to that.

What are you future plans for the series?
Fatimah: We are currently trying to figure out a season two, which is very exciting.

The parents of these brown girlfriends are drawn into their conversations quite frequently. How do you think their stories can reframe family and kinship to be more inclusive of the kinds of norm disrupting they are doing in the show?
Fatimah: I think family is incredible important, and I wanted to include their families in the conversation because I feel like it added depth to their characters. I also think that these family characters are really complicated and nuanced– like Carla, Patricia’s mom, who is dealing with the difference between loneliness and being alone. In a lot of ways what she is going through is very similar to what Patricia is going through, but Patricia might not recognize that exactly. It’s sometimes hard to see your family members and parents as actual human beings, but they are. And a lot of the characters in the show are going through similar feelings, they just might not always realize that that’s happening.

What has the response been like so far?
Sam: The response has been really moving. Mostly, we get people simply just saying “thank you” for creating the series because it’s the first time they’ve seen themselves reflected on the screen and that’s really powerful enough. We met someone at the Chicago screening who had driven 4 hours from Indiana I believe, by themselves, just to be there and be able to watch the show with like minded individuals and that was really amazing to me.

When you created Brown Girls, what kinds of Black and Asian historical and cultural intersections were you hoping would emerge?
Fatimah: I really wanted to center the interracial relationships between different communities of color. What we’ve laid down in season one is a springboard for that, and I am excited to see the ways we can continue to explore that as we move forward with the show. I know I want to explore the diversity and solidarity that comes up within varying groups of color, and how solidarity is an active process and is earned.

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Mitzi Uehara Carter is a professor of Anthropology and East Asian Studies at Florida International University. Her research focuses on race in transnational militarized spaces. She is currently working on her book about her mother and militarization in Okinawa.