Behind the DIY web-series Brown Girls
Brown to Earth
Interview: Isis Nicole
Where there's a will, two made a way. This year, director Samantha Bailey and writer Fatimah Asghar premiered Brown Girls, a viral coming-of-age web series which follows Leila (Nabila Hossain), a queer South Asian-American writer and Patricia(Sonia Denis), a sex-positive Black-American musician, based in Chicago. A few months before announcing their development deal with HBO, the full-time creatives hopped on a call with IN to discuss making room for failure, success, and their needs within the arts.
Isis: What's the most incredible thing to have happened to you this year?
Samantha Bailey: In terms of work and stuff, the premiere of Brown Girls was incredible for me. Just how many showed up in Chicago and around the world, I don't think that I had any idea that [there] would be so much interest outside of our community in Chicago. Knowing that we premiered around the world is incredible, and amazing, and I don't really know what to do with that.
Fatimah Asghar: It was pretty exciting to feel the love around the project. I never really expected it to be on this level. That feeling is really great.
IN: What's a casual day in your life like post success?
SB: [Laughs] I literally painted all of my apartment yesterday, and [now] I'm laying on the couch. I feel like everyday is different. Fati and I, we text each other everyday. Everyday there's a different email, some cool write up, or something that continues to be exciting. My day-to-day hasn't fully changed. I'm still working on like the social media aspect of Brown Girls and all that stuff.
FA: I tend to just travel a lot. It depends on where I am or I'm not. That has kind of been my life for a long time because I travel a lot for poetry. It's just kind of constantly being on the road. I feel like really lucky.
IN: Where do you go or what do you do to relax?
SB: I'm still figuring that out. I'm in LA right now so that's kind of a change. I think what I do to relax is make a cup of tea and sit on my porch. Taking time out of my day to myself before answering emails, that's like my way of relaxing.
IN: Sam, what inspired your move from Chicago to LA?
SB: Chicago is still very much like an artistic home for me. I fly back pretty often in terms of doing work out there. I kind of made the decision at the end last year that things would be changing and I wanted to make space in my life for that. As much as I love Chicago and I'm from Chicago, it kind of sometimes is a distraction for me because there's so much going on. I'm so quick to jump on something and collaborate. All [of] that's great, but I feel like I needed a little bit of focus and me time.
IN: How do you make the most of your time?
FA: I think it's really interesting. Even with Brown Girls, we shot it in nine days with no rehearsal time and met the day we started shooting. There's kind of this way that we've always been operating under this pressurized time. Sam and I, we live in different cities, so when we get together we'll get one day. I think it's part of the way that I've known how to make art, and how Sam has known how to make art for a long time. It's just knowing that [to] make the most of the time that you do have and then also having the most fun. To be like, cool okay we've worked really hard and now we're going to go out together and have fun, or take this moment to take care of each other and make sure that we both feel there for each other. I think that there's kind of a way that we've got accustom to that.
SB: Surrounding ourselves [with] really talented people that ride for us, we're able to use that time. No one's wasting that time while we're working because everyone is so invested. As much as it is about us putting our head down and doing the work, trying to get these parts of the ground, a big part of that is utilizing our artistic community. That helps us savor those moments.
IN: What are your greatest needs within the arts today?
SB: I just want to expand the narrative and the people that can tell those [stories]. My need is for access to either funds or opportunities for these people to have a platform. I think it's still something that's actually being attacked from our actual government, and I want that to [change] on a wider scale in the future.
FA: I agree with Sam. I also need people to take risks. To try things, and to be okay with it (in the art world). I think it was cool, the fact that we did Brown Girls in a way that felt really good and important. To be able to have this cast of all people of color, [showing] these kind of things that are not in mainstream media. Taking that risk to show a South Asian Muslim girl who likes drinks, and is queer, because people live that life. To be able to try to show this thing people don't want to see. I honestly feel like you have to give young people the ability to take a risk and fail. It's so important to have that space. I think sometimes in art communities there's a lot of pressure to do everything perfectly, or [to] succeed. That kind of pressure can stifle art because you're not listening to yourself. [Lastly] I think there needs to be a little bit more forgiveness in artistic spaces, too, which is interesting. [Imagine] the ability to experiment and play to change the stakes of judgment.
Originally published in IN #6, Fall 2017