Brown Girls

Brown Girls

photo: Megan Lee Miller

Recently, there's been an uptick of TV shows told by and about Black people: "Insecure," "Atlanta," "How To Get Away With Murder," "Scandal," "Being Mary Jane," and "Black-ish" have ratings that prove audiences are invested in Black stories. 

Yet, few of those shows — outside of "Insecure" — show dynamic and loving friendships between women of color, especially friends from different racial backgrounds.  

"Brown Girls" changes that.

The web series follows Leila (Nabila Hossain), a Pakistani-American writer who's learning to embrace her queer identity, and Patricia (Sonia Denis), a sex-positive Black female musician finding her footing after a breakup.

Leila and Patricia's friendship mirrors that of Fatima Asghar, the show's writer, and Jamila Woods, the show's music consultant. 

"['Brown Girls'] was really trying to get the texture of this friendship, which is women of color from different racial backgrounds," Asghar told Revelist. "[Centering the friendship between Leila and Patricia] was the upmost important thing, making sure they were coming across as a really strong friendship — that the show revolved around their friendship, and not necessarily their other relationships."

Their friendship is the sustaining force holding both women upright. 

Leila and Patricia live together, so they're shown talking through their issues while eating hot cheetos and eggs or simply lounging in bed. It's a simple, but layered depiction of women of color creating community among each other, an aspect that's missing on primetime shows, like "Scandal" and "How To Get Away With Murder."

"I don't think I've ever seen a friendship so deep between women of color of different racial backgrounds reflected on television," Asghar told NBC News. "I think women of color from different racial backgrounds are usually at odds with each other on television—they're usually there to tear each other a part or for some weird ass comparison. I'm tired of seeing that." 

"Brown Girls" also brilliantly subverts the stereotypes associated with queer women of color, especially those navigating complicated family dynamics.

The opening scene of "Brown Girls" shows Leila having a tough conversation with an overpowering aunt who wants her to go to the mosque and questions her about her sex life. It's then revealed that Leila is queer as the girl she's been sleeping with is shown naked in her bed.

Asghar told Time that Leila's queerness is essential to the show. It combats the tropes that plague Muslim characters, including often being "confined to roles like terrorists and gas station owners."

"A lot of people come from intersections that get erased on media platforms," she said. "If we can shed light that these people exist and are real, and have many different personalities, it will expand the definition of what some of these identities mean."

Approaching all of the show's characters from a place of love shaped the show's intention.

"I wanted to make sure I was treating these characters with a lot of love, even though they have these struggles in their lives, and they’re coming up against a lot of stuff, that really what gets them through it is their love for each and support of each other," Asghar told Revelist.

For instance, there's an incredibly moving scene midway through the season where Leila tells her sister that she's queer.

Instead of responding in the negative way often depicted, she embraces her sister and immediately decides to lend her support however she's needed. It's a different coming-out-story, especially for a queer woman of color.

Similarly, Patricia's character offers a different perspective on being Black and sex-positive. After having sex with a man she met on Tinder, she awakens him from his sleep to ask him to leave. While she has a cold exterior, her rejection of intimacy is really armor wielded against potential hurt. Patricia is actually interested in the man she slept with, which is precisely why she kicks him out.

She doesn't want to get closer to him. It would put her closer to a heartbreak she's already endured. Her decision is affirmed when that same man comes to the restaurant where she bartends with another woman. Patricia makes them so uncomfortable that they both leave and then she drinks from the bar until she's fired.

 The profound interiority of Patricia is important for Black women who are rarely offered the opportunity to see similar characters on TV: complicated, ambitious, self-sabotaging, and the opposite of carefree.

That purposefulness — about the characters, about the cast and crew, about the location — is what makes "Brown Girls" a gem. The entire cast and crew — including extras — are people of color. The show is also set in Chicago, something that separates "Brown Girls" apart from other series, like "Broad City" and "Insecure."

"I’m from Chicago, so most of the stories that I choose to shoot are based in Chicago," Bailey said. "My overarching goal is always to show the complexity of the city. So, Chicago does become another character in 'Brown Girls' in that way."

The first season of "Brown Girls" is only eight episodes, but the sky is the limit for the popular web series.

"Fatimah [Asghar] and I are open to the multitude of places 'Brown Girls' can live, which is really cool about web series because it reaches a lot of people," Bailey said. "We really wanted our viewers to access it easily, so that's why it's online. But I think our biggest goal is to make it so as many people as possible can watch the show."

A revolution is brewing on TV. Hopefully, "Brown Girls" soon joins it.