We spoke to the women behind “Brown Girls,” a viral web series that’s headed to HBO
We all know representation matters, which is why writer Fatimah Asghar and director Sam Bailey created Brown Girls. The web series, which has been described as a love letter to, well, brown girls everywhere, was recently picked up by HBO.
“To be where we are today feels kind of wild,” Asghar told HelloGiggles. “It’s been such a big journey, we both learned a lot.”
Brown Girls, which is filmed in Chicago and boasts a diverse cast and crew, revolves around two women of color: Leila, a queer Pakistani-American writer, and Patricia, her “sex-positive” Black-American friend. It’s based on the real-life friendship of Asghar and popular Chicago poet and musical artist Jamila Woods, who also doubles as the show’s music consultant.
To learn more about the importance of sisterhood, we chatted with Asghar and Bailey, the brilliant minds behind Brown Girls.
HelloGiggles (HG): We love that Brown Girls is based on a real-life friendship. What was it like working with your friend on this series?
Sam Bailey (SB): I was really lucky to be able to work with her. Fati and I connected with the Live Lit scene in Chicago, and our friendship grew from respect. I respect her as an artist, and our friendship became a real thing outside of art. I don’t know how stable I’d be if I were doing this by myself, so it’s nice to have someone going through the same thing. And there aren’t many difficulties because we know each other’s roles: I’m directing, she’s writing. We’re a support system for each other.
Fatimah Asghar (FA): It’s really interesting because I can’t imagine now not being friends with people you do business with. It would be really difficult to collaborate on things that require this much time and energy and emotional output. It’s really unthinkable to me.
HG: And what advice do you have for young women, especially young women of color, who want to get to where you are and do what you do?
FA: Not to sit on anything. Sometimes we come up with this thing, this brilliant idea, and we don’t know how to make it or we don’t have the money. Marginalized folks don’t have access to resources in the same way as other people. It’s hard because you can sit for a long time on an idea in your head and it remains an idea. Honestly, I think if we’d gone out and pitched Brown Girls the traditional way, it wouldn’t have gained as much traction because there are thousands of folks doing that.
It’s so important to create yourself as an artist and have your own concept. If you don’t have work that shows what you’re able to do, then it’s hard for folks in such a competitive industry to take you seriously. When we created Brown Girls, it was not our end goal to be on a network. People would ask us and say if you want to be on a network, you have to put White characters on the show, and my response was “No, I don’t care.” I just wanted to make something that my community loves and sees themselves in and can laugh at. If Brown Girls doesn’t go beyond a web series, we hit the original success point for me. And I think that’s so important to make your work and not have any expectations on that.
HG: Sam, I follow you on social media and I know you fan-girled a bit when Issa Rae [creator of Insecure] tweeted you about the show. Who are some other women you both respect and admire?
SB: There’s a filmmaker in Germany, Amelia Um, she does really dope work. And Amy Aniobi, a writer and producer on Insecure. She’s super helpful and kind, she’s like a fairy godmother.
FA: The same as what Sam said. I’m also impressed by the way Ava Duvernay conducts herself in interviews and people like Shonda Rhimes. And [Chicago playwright] Tanya Saracho, as well as all the different actresses who’ve reached out and said something. We get a lot of comments on Twitter that say “from one brown girl to another, we’re rooting for you.” It’s so special when that happens, when someone says “I see you.” It makes me so happy.
HG: I just love that sisterhood and the practice of community over competition. Why do you think that’s so important nowadays?
FA: Competition is born out of a scarcity mindset. Tracee Ellis Ross said, “I was raised to believe there’s enough sun for all of us,” and I really believe that. A mentor in college said circles thrive together. If you invest in the people around you, you will all come up together. I want this industry to change and be less shitty. And the way to do that is to support each other. People say a lot of bitter things and I don’t want to respond with bitterness. I want to be as positive as possible. It’s important to look out for each other.
HG: Now on a much lighter note, what was your favorite episode or moment while filming?
SB: The entire thing was really fun, but Episode 4, where there’s a big party scene … that episode played out exactly how I planned it to. Sometimes when you’re directing, that doesn’t happen. But the colors and the art direction and the music, it felt like the embodiment of the entire season. I was really happy about that.
FA: I work a lot with mentoring young artists, so for me, it was the day when we had some of the students come on set. It was really cool because for a lot of them, it was their first time on set. It was really cute to see them going around and asking questions and helping with wardrobe. They said it felt dope to see people who look like them.
Watch the full season of Brown Girls here.