YCA Blog

How “Brown Girls” Helps Us Better Understand Identity

How “Brown Girls” Helps Us Better Understand Identity

Written by Christian Sanchez, Marlena Wadley and Tanya Munoz 
photos via RJ Eldridge

On Wednesday (February 15), Chicago Art Department hummed with chatter and laughter while people lined up outside waiting for the premiere of the web series Brown Girls. Written by Fatimah Asghar and directed by Sam Bailey, Brown Girls is a story based on Asghar’s life. Centered around two brown women, Leila and Patricia are trying to settle into their identities and careers while being each other’s shoulder and combing out the kinks.

Asghar is no stranger to writing or performing; in 2015, she published her own book, AFTER, a number of poems that truthfully explore the aftermath of an abusive relationship. In 2015 she also delivered a TED talk, “We Own All The Language In The World” about poetry being a powerful tool, helping us see our world differently. If she’s not spreading truth on a large platform, she’s doing it in smaller, intimate spaces in her community. A teaching artist at Young Chicago Authors, Asghar also helps run the space’s queer youth open mic Queerosity. She has always emphasized the power of using poetry as a tool to understand every aspect of her identity, the same thing she has provided for people of color with Brown Girls, a tool to help us understand our identity, to feel comfortable with our identity, to say, “My identity is real. My stories are real.”

When the announcement of Brown Girls first surfaced, many compared it to Lena Dunham’s TV show Girls. But really, Brown Girls is unmatched. The show is inclusive and representative of intersectional feminism, has an entire black and brown cast, normalizes queer relationships, and gives women of color a spotlight and platform. Just like the show, the screening event for Brown Girls was full of love, authentic, and very supportive.

Before the premiere of Brown Girls, various WOC — dancers, singers, comedians, and storytellers — showcased what it means to be a brown woman in today’s society. Among the performers was Brown Girls star Nabila Hossain, who paid tribute to her South Asian roots using dance; Sonia Denis, who uses comedic storytelling to relay her experiences as a black woman; and theme song contributors Jamila Woods and Lisa Mishra, who enchanted us with their majestic voices.

The premiere party was a handful of avant-garde performances that exemplified each artist’s uniqueness and the overall creativity of brown women in general. The entire night, POC walked through the door, and were immediately greeted by black and brown vendors, and taken in by other POC and queer folks. As guests walked around the space of the Chicago Art Department, waiting for the performances to start prior to the show, we got a chance to ask why they came out to support the Brown Girls premiere.

Ryan and Sydney—who came together to the event—shared many reasons why they were present at the screening. They had been waiting for the show to premiere and were excited to participate in the shared experience of watching it for the first time with the crowd.

Ryan mentioned that they didn’t often get to interact with queer brown people, and that was one of the main reasons that Brown Girls appealed to them. Sydney shared that their favorite part of the trailer was the intimacy and ease of the humor. “It’s funny but doesn’t try too hard,” she said. Ryan added the fact that Woods worked on the music also made them excited for the show.

Many people at the event had been fans and supporters of Asghar before she had even announced the idea of Brown Girls. Yady Rivero and Shweta Akolkar, students at the University of Chicago, saw the event on social media and eagerly clicked the “Attending” button. They saw Asghar perform her poetry from the Breakbeat Poets Anthology and have been fans ever since.

One of the first scenes from the show was a frame of a queer, Afro-Latina woman laying naked, on her boo’s bed. The entire crowd squealed, whistled, clapped, and cheered with delight. Finally, representation. There was something about hearing the words, “You gotta stop eating dirty butt,” with a room full of people who identified with that line, that made everything feel comforting.

Everyone in the room seemed to understand each other, where each other came from, our struggles as POC and being queer; it felt like all of us were supposed to be there, and that we belonged there, together. During one of the last episodes, one of the characters, whose name is Victor — played by Rashaad Hall — admits, “I want love. I want that shit. That shit that makes you wake up for in the morning. That shit that makes you go to work and deal with racism because you know you can go home to your bae at the end of the day.” When he said this, there was a warm feeling that came over the room, like a sigh of relief that we weren't the only ones who wanted the same thing.