For Us, By Us: #BrownGirlsTV and the Joy of Representation

When I first heard about the series Brown Girls last year, I had no idea Sam Bailey, the writer and director behind one of my all-time favorite web series, was the director for the show. Like so many of us who still look for representation wherever we can find it, I was simply ecstatic to know another show that centered women of color was getting some major buzz. However, I had to wait until February of this year for the premier.

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It finally came. Releasing the first episode exclusively on Elle magazine’s site before releasing the entire series on the web, Brown Girls was accessible to those of us who have cut the cord or who still may not have access to premium streaming services. And in our Netflix driven viewing experience, we didn’t have to wait week after week for the seven episodes, none of which lasts more than 13 minutes.

Within this series that last a little more than an hour, we got so much more than just another web series. The name alone responds directly to another well-known show that focuses on female 20-somethings who happen to be all white despite its NYC setting. With Brown Girls, we get stories about Black and brown female creatives dealing with singledom, sexuality, family drama and friendship.

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Yet it’s all done with a humorous slant. No one is tragic here. Messy maybe, but there are so much more to Patricia and Leila than the -isms that surely have an effect on their lives outside their friends and family. They’re allowed to live as young people and make all the mistakes 20-somethings tend to make and deal with the fallout of said mistakes.

Furthermore, the show brings queer representation and body diversity to a city that is already full of it: Chicago. In fact, almost all the faces in the show are Black and brown and feel safe. Brown Girls refuses to deliver pain porn to audiences used to seeing Black and brown women and girls suffer for their entertainment. While the living isn’t all milk and honey, there is legitimate joy in these characters and the spaces they occupy.

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Written by poet Fatimah Asghar and directed by Sam Bailey, the two leads are loosely based on her and her best friend Jamila Woods, yes that Jamila Woods who delivered us some Black girl joy with her single “Blk Girl Soldier” and subsequent album Heavn. Woods actually does the music and performs in an episode as well. While Asghar says the depictions are not autobiographical, she describes the characters as the alter-egos of her and Woods.

Bailey brings much of the humor she infused in You’re So Talented to this new series. The collaboration between her and Asghar reminds us of what women of color can do together, much like we learned with the first season of the excellent Queen Sugar. Overall, it lived up to the much-deserved hype it’s gotten over the past few months. While we hope for a second season, we should also hope this series brings more opportunities and visibility for all those involved. Brown Girls does not purport to be “the voice of a generation” as other shows might, but we do see that the voices vary and each one deserves to be heard in its own way.

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