Nadia Manzoor and Radhika Vaz of Shugs & Fats
Despite the greatness of Shonda Rhimes, TV is still largely populated by white dudes. Systemic discrimination continues to keep women and people of color from working as writers and directors in the industry—women make up only 14 percent of broadcast TV directors. Rather than trying to fight their way into a big break on TV, many creative women are instead deciding to make their own media and pour their energies into web series. That’s part of why I got excited about producing a web series, at least. This year, I released the first two episodes of Bailout, a webseries I wrote and directed about an Iranian American woman struggling to hide her credit card debt from her immigrant family. Our crew included by a female director of cinematography, a female editor, and centers on female main characters. In making the show, it felt like we weren’t just telling a story that was important to us, but were collectively pushing back against the larger industry.
Since it can be hard to figure out which of the million webseries to watch, I wanted to share my list of my favorite series by and about women of color. Watching these series is not only about finding new sources of entertainment when you want to unwind. It’s also a way for you to do your part to help in culture shift. Every number you increase those YouTube watch tallies by signals to TV producers that there is in fact a large audience for stories about women. And, that in the meantime if TV doesn’t reflect us, we can successfully make our own. So grab your phone or computer, and cozy up with these five web series directed by women of color!
Flat3 is a comedic webseries that follows three New Zealand-Asian roommates—Lee, Jessica and Perlina—as they navigate friendship, love, living together and the day-to-day microagressions of the Kiwi-Asian experience. Lee is mousy but smart, Jessica is dramatic and self-absorbed, and Perlina has a no-filter tell it like it is attitude. It is in the conflict of their personalities with one another and the world around them that the comedy in this series emerges. The series is written and directed by Roseanne Liang, the first Chinese New Zealander to make a feature length film, My Wedding and Other Secrets, with theatrical release. After three seasons of the series, the trio has recently received funding to make six months of weekly episodes of a new series called “Friday Night Bites.”
Clench and Release
Clench and Release follows in the tradition of TV shows like Louis and Seinfeld in blending comedian Charla Lauriston’s stand-up routines with a fictionalized version of herself. Similar to Louis C.K and Jerry Seinfeld, Charla’s character is flawed and at times a hot mess, running a $1000 tab at the bar after getting paid for her first comedy gig and showing up to dates high–but still endearing. In its two completed seasons, the series has not shied away from using comedy to challenge audiences on topics from slavery to access to contraception. If you haven’t heard of this Lauriston before, it’s still likely that you’ve unknowingly laughed her jokes: She’s worked as a writer with comedians like Tina Fey and Hannibal Buress.
Shugs & Fats
Shugs & Fats is an irreverent slapstick comedy that follows the daily trials and travails of Shugufta and Fatima, two hijab-wearing South Asian women living in Brooklyn. The friends’ antics center around their attempts to adopt Western trends like doing a juice cleanse, starting a book club, and discovering vibrators. The series, created by lead actresses Nadia Manzoor and Radhika Vaz, has two complete seasons with a third set for release in early 2016. The duo also has did series of videos for Moral Courage in which they roam the streets, in character, asking people passing by questions like how to spot a feminist.
Ackee & Saltfish
Ackee & Saltfish started as a short film by Cecile Emeke about two friends, Olivia and Rachel, wandering around East London looking for a Caribbean salt cod dish. The six-episode web series is filled with snippets from the friends’ witty banter during everyday scenarios that occasionally take unexpected turns. In a media culture, both in the US and Europe, where Black women are offered limited roles and storylines, Emeke’s series is a refreshing celebration of friendship and human playfulness between these two 20-somethings.
Most webseries are either comedies, dramas, or some combination of the two. But what about a fantasy series? That unique positioning is part what makes the web series MisSpelled so great. The five episode series features a multi-racial crew of modern day witches—Gladys, Emma, Quinn, Stella, and Nina—who “guess and Google their way through magic.” Each of the women acquires a power that they have to learn how to harness, and part of their sisterhood they build together is balancing out each other through their mistakes and learning. MisSpelled is a project by emerging director and actress Lindsey McDowell and hopefully is the start of more witchy work in the future.