Intersectional Web Series Bring Queer, People of Color, and Poly Voices into their Stories
If the past two award seasons are any indicator, filmmakers are producing plenty of content to disrupt the male-dominated, cis-het #oscarssowhite culture that for so long has been the status quo. But the success of Lady Bird, Shape of Water, and Get Out don’t guarantee an even playing ground for every story that needs to be told. Once again we have YouTube or Vimeo to provide a way for diverse voices to be heard, especially, in a financially-accessible web series format. In these resources, we can hope to find the next Issa Rae or Ingrid Jungermann just waiting for their audience to be unlocked, and their series or feature films to get picked up by HBO.
Photo via Instagram
Written by poet and performer Fatimah Asghar, Brown Girls drops you right away into a vulnerable, fraught lovers’ conversation. But though the first scene pays scrutinizing attention to one main character’s tenuous relationship to queerness (South Asian American writer Leila), the 2017 series also showcases the other main character’s process to follow her artistic dreams (African American singer Patricia). While these aspects of their identities are authentic and powerful within the show, Asghar also draws on something that so often gets underrepresented in narratives: the transformative power of a close friendship.
Brown Girls won a Streamy for Best Indie Series, and was Emmy nominated in 2017 for Outstanding Short Form Comedy. Director of the series Sam Bailey also created and stars in “You’re So Talented,” a web series centered around a Chicago-based actor. The show has secured a development deal with HBO.
Taking format inspiration from The More You Know PSA television spots, You Should Know This By Now was released during Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in 2018. Produced by Open TV, the extremely short videos are definitely hilarious even if you are not of Asian heritage. While you could easily watch these all in one sitting, here are two examples of the entire transcript from 2 episodes:
“Hi, my name is Fawzia Mirza and I’m from Pakistan. Not Päkistän - Pahkistahn! No, I’m not saying it with an accent, you’re saying it with an accent. Actually, you’re saying it completely wrong.” - Fawzia Mirza
“Do I ever look at myself and just think, ‘I can’t tell myself apart from the other Asian guy I pass on the street!’ No! How is this still a thing?” - Joshua Chang
Directed by Reena Dutt, and written by Fawzia Mirza and the rest of the cast, the series is simple in its quest to point out what may not necessarily be obvious to non-Asian people. Mirza also co-wrote and produced Signature Move, a Chicago based film that reflects the often underrepresented diversity of the Midwestern city. She also plays a character in the trans-centric web series Her Story.
Based in Los Angeles, Her Story revolves around a trans woman named Violet who connects with a reporter wanting to interview her for a gay publication. The narrative uses relationships and dating to bring up aspects of Violet’s orientation and unique transition while emphasizing that there isn’t a typical trans woman experience. Portraying a character with little practice in talking about trans stories is helpful to viewers who may also not be aware of how to be tactful about these issues with non-cisgendered people.
Sydney Freeland via IMDB
The acting and production of Her Story are high-level, possibly a reflection of director Sydney Freeland’s expertise. A Native American filmmaker who has worked on short and feature-length films such as Deidra & Laney Rob a Train in 2017. Freeland has most recently been credited as director on the 2018 reboot of Grey’s Anatomy.
Sometimes described as the queer “Insecure,” 195 Lewis tracks a couple that have newly opened their relationship to polyamory. In the first episode, the majority black cast convene for a party in the Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn apartment of these two women and an old friend’s surprise arrival forces the couple to practice that “radical honesty” they’ve been planning on putting into action.
Not all series run on first-rate acting, but 195 Lewis has many other positive aspects; a little awkwardness can be brushed aside. The voices of artistic and intellectual African-american female characters are the base of this narrative, and finally a fresh perspective from people telling their own stories. Same-sex relationships are so infrequently the center of stories, and the complications that arise from polyamory creates an even more unique world. Chanelle Aponte Pearson describes her conversation with co-writer Yaani Supreme: “we talked for hours about queerness in Brooklyn, and poly-ness in Brooklyn and how we’re not seeing that [...] We were really excited to create a project reflective of the experiences we were observing in our community.” IndieWire
The vast choices we now face are a gift. These creators are sharing their stories not just with the mainstream, but with their own communities. It’s not just about people of color or LGBT people teaching non-minorities how to engage with them, it's about all of us being part of the party.
Cover photo via W Magazine