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.

My $2 Investment in… Me

square-microphone-on-keyboardFor the past hour or so, I’ve found those wheels in my head turning as I either think of ways to make next month’s rent or avoid thinking of ways to make next month’s rent. I’m not sure which, but I’m sure these wheels come from events of the past two days. You see, 1) yesterday I almost on an impulse bought Hindenburg Journalist software without knowing what it really was and 2) I finally got around to starting my online Introduction to the Music Business course.

First, the software. I found today that Hindenburg is audio editing software. I watched a couple of tutorials today and saw that it works rather intuitively, which means that $1.90 I spent will most definitely not go to waste. In fact, I may have a means other than Audacity to edit my audio and perhaps provide better quality to my shows. Also, I may have another incentive to do other types of podcasts besides my lil music show.

I’m glad my instincts told me to go ahead and get the software because it looked like it would come in handy (much like the reason I never throw away lidded jars). I feel that I’ve made a small investment in my future that would have been out of my means any other day. I love podcasting and would love to create more opportunities through this medium, but I fear I cannot offer much of a quality product with what I have now. So we’ll see how this works out.

Second, the music course. I’ve grown fond of online courses through EdX over the past couple of years. I took a history of comic book superheroes a couple of years ago and just finished a Hollywood history courses a couple of weeks ago. (I also took a comic course more about creating and understanding how comics work through another outlet recently as well.) Now with the Introduction to Music Business, I’m adding to my interests.

I should note that I have an M.A. in communications, so the Hollywood history and music business courses are a bit of a refresher from what I already gained from more than 20 years of study and independent scholarship. However, the first week’s lesson of the music course has me thinking, especially with the recent discussion about the Grammy’s and other cultural institutions.

One of the first things that kept going through my head as the course began is the acknowledgment that Black female blues singers were the first stars of the recording industry. In fact, I’d say by extension that all visual and sonic cultural institutions came from the (often invisible) labor of Black people whether or not we got credit and/or compensation. I feel like this is why it cuts so deeply when Black cultural creators and innovators are not given recognition during awards seasons. The desire is not for white acceptance but for an acknowledgment that Black people are the reasons for these institutions. To have our culture stolen then be shut out from the very institutions that benefit from us is more than a punch in the gut. It is soul stealing.

So I get back to this question or declaration that my esteemed online professor John P. Kellogg made regarding the music business: “If it gets played, somebody gets paid.” As he says, he’d rather you get paid than get played. Unfortunately, Black artists have been on the receiving end of getting played more often than not when it was their music and creative innovation that created a multi-billion dollar industry.

This is where the wheels in my head come in. I am a lifelong music fan. I don’t go a day without listening to music in some way or another. Music artists are my heroes and role models. They have a talent I both admire and envy. Social media have allowed me to connect with other music lovers, many who are Black women like me, and share my experience as a music fan. However, I also noticed something about them.

They all seem to have some type of frontwoman talent. They can sing and/or play instruments. I can do neither. Like most people, my vocals are only decent in the bathroom where acoustics are good. I also have trouble moving both my hands in sync, which means I could never play chords on any instrument. Most people I know who work on the business end of the music industry have in some way or another been in the talent pool. At nearly 40, there’s no way I could ever learn music talent.

But I have to ask myself does this exclude me from being part of an industry I love so deeply even though it has been most unkind to my people? Is there a way I can put myself in a situation that would help me rectify some of the wrongs to the artists who have given so much to me?

This is the question that led me to start The Black Swan Collective. It’s been more than a year and the show really hasn’t gained that much traction. However, I keep it going through Mixcloud because I like to believe the site’s claim that artists receive royalties. Even if this is not true, including the playlist allows Mixcloud to link to sources where artists’ music is available for purchase and I hope people sometimes click these links.

I plan on keeping the show going as long as possible. It’s a labor of love and has exposed me to some really great Black female artists whom I might not otherwise heard of. Hopefully, the show is another outlet for them and those six or seven listens I tend to get per show finds a way to expand beyond that short reach.

But I want to do more. With this Hindenburg program, I might be able to do more in the way of critique. I can fangirl a little more than I do with the current show. The Hindenburg interface looks user friendly enough for amateurs such as myself. So in the next couple of weeks, I’ll give it a try and see how well I can do with this platform. I owe that much to these women. I owe that much to myself.

In the meantime, I’m trying to do more with the blog in terms of exposing music artists and giving them their due while I try to get new work and bring in more income so that I’m not floundering when I worry about not bringing in enough cash to take care of myself. We’ll see how my lil $2 investment goes.

Happy Love Day, QUILTBAG

 

Every year I try to do something special for VDay because I try to make the day all about love. So this year I’m honoring Black women/femmes who fall under a QUILTBAG flag. I’ve got some great stuff by trans and queer women as well as a few selections about WLW. So Happy Love Day to all my QUILTBAG peeps. And thanx to all these wonderful Black QUILTBAG women/femmes for this kickass music.

A Black Feminist Apocalypse/Dystopian Survival Syllabus

 

With the awful realization that we are indeed in a fight for our very survival coming over me for the past few years, I’ve asked myself this question: what can I do right now, today? With my resources limited or tapped out, I’ve often felt helpless, especially when I’ve had to go to others for help so many times. But today, I realized one thing I can do.

I know that everyone is doing syllabi right now and the idea might seem trite or trivial, but this is what I can contribute. A Black Feminist Apocalypse/Dystopian Survival Syllabus. (Wow that’s a mouthful.) The reason I feel this is necessary because I keep thinking of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. She wasn’t trying to be prophetic, but she was. And the refrain I’ve been seeing since the November election: Black women tried to tell us. Well, yes we have.

So in this spirit, I am putting together some works that address the issues we face now in hopes of providing a good resource to help us get through these coming days and survive together. This is not an exhaustive list. I need some help putting together resources in many areas here, so I am making this a Google Doc. However, I am making it “view only” to moderate and prevent trolls and other assholes from putting bogus information or other derailing tactics here. If you have something to contribute, please @ me on Twitter @IndasCorner so I can include the links.

A few words and disclaimers: not all these references are Black women, but most of them center the marginalized in a useful way. If you are aware of where to get these sources as low or no-cost, please send that information. If you are able to buy or contribute to these sources for yourself and/or others, please do so. I am including many POC and WOC, particularly in QUILTBAG communities who are already underpaid and struggling, so please make contributions to them when you can. I am also trying to include links to sources other than Amazon or other big box stores to help.

Furthermore, if you have local resources and organizations for many of the blank areas such as urban farming and self-defense, please send them with links to these sources. National organizations are great, but there are many local orgs doing the work with little to no resources at their disposal. Also, if you know DIY sources, please send them along.

So in this spirit, let’s start the syllabus and keep it going as long as necessary.

Audio

@yeloson – Fist of the Southside (self-defense podcast)

Bibi Bourelly – Riot

Jamila Woods – Blk Girl Soldier

Labelle – Something in the Air/The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Lauryn Hill – Rebel/I Find It Hard to Say (2016)

Nina Simone – Pirate Jenny

Sate – Feel

Vita Elizabeth Cleveland – Hell Y’all Ain’t Talmbout

Blogs and Websites

@so_treu – Antiblackness Is a Theory (suspended but plans to revive)

Fiction

Jennifer Marie Brissett – Elysium

Nalo Hopkinson – Brown Girl in the Ring

Octavia Butler – Parable of the Sower

Octavia Butler – Parable of the Talents

Film and Television

Ava Duvernay (dir.) – 13th

Jennifer Phang (dir.) – Advantageous

Lizzie Borden (dir.) – Born in Flames

Gillo Pontecorvo (dir.) – The Battle of Algiers

Luchina Fisher (dir.) – Danger Word

Non-Fiction

Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens, and Mai’a Williams (eds.) – Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines

Audre Lorde – The Cancer Journals

Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (eds.) – The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activists Communities

Ella Shohat and Robert Sham – Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media

Mariame Kaba and Billy Dee – Black/Inside: A History of Captivity & Confinement in the United States

Monica Trinidad (ed.) – A Support Zine for Marissa Alexander (zine)

No Selves to Defend: A Legacy of Criminalizing Women of Color for Self-Defense (zine)

No Selves to Defend: Poems About Criminalization and Violence Against Women (zine)

Self-Care and Healing

I’Nasah – Death Valley, Or How to Not Kill Yourself in Less Than Ten Days (zine, out of print)

Ntozake Shange – for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf

Se’mana Thompson (ed.) – Queer Indigenous Girl (zine)

Third Woman Press Zine – Calling All Goddesses (zine)

Web Series or Shorts

(Please Contribute)

Need More Sources for (please indicate whether these are book, zine, film, etc. sources):

Urban Farming

Self-Defense

Sewing/Making Clothes, Fabrics

Water Sources

Centering Disabilities

First Aid

Podcasts and web vids specifically about survival, decolonization, any of the above subjects such as self-defense, etc. that center marginalized people