Fatimah Asghar tells stories. But she’s also a nationally touring poet, with her works featured in PBS, POETRY Magazine, and The Paris-American. But more generally, she considers herself an artist.

photo by jassie uo

She’s never entered film before, but she wrote a script based on herself and her friendships last winter. “Nothing in media reflects our relationships or our stories,” she said, and she sought to change this.

She decided to write Brown Girls.

At a local reading last February, she recited the script to an episodic series to hear how her stories sounded aloud. She cited Chicago’s DIY and art communities for making her ideas come alive. Asghar, who is of Kashmiri descent and is from the East Coast, is 26 years old and has lived in Chicago for 4 years. Though we live in the most segregated city in the United States, she said you can see all different kind of friends come together in the artistic sphere.

And luckily, a director approached her after the reading.

Sam Bailey, who is a person of color, is no stranger to depicting young, creative 20-somethings in Chicago. She created the web series You’re So Talented about an out of work actor who lives in Logan Square. But what makes Brown Girls unlike anything before it is that it features a cast and a crew of people who are people of color, queer, and/or feminine.

Both Asghar and Bailey wanted to make an effort to create an inclusive team. The set represents so much of the people they know. Asghar said, “I wanted to make roles for people who are not given those roles.”

The two central characters in Brown Girls are Leila and Patricia. Leila is a South Asian-American writer who just starts embracing her queerness. Patricia is a sex-positive Black-American musician but struggles with commitment.

They started filming last week. Asghar, who just months ago didn’t know the different roles of a set, said “it feels dope to have a whole crew behind us.” She said her characters are better suited for a web series because “they hinge on honesty.” And story is spliced up into 10-minute episodes for viewers to get to know the characters and their lives. “The series are like chapters,” Asghar said.

BG Collage 2

And writing web episodes gives Asghar a different arch and structure to tell stories than poetry. She said “poetry is about a moment and about a thing that happens” but film lets her develop characters. Still, her poetry background slips into her screenwriting, especially with the specificity of language. She said that the “poetry creeps up.”

“I grew up in theater,” she said, “crossing over is easy for me.” She emphasized that she is comfortable presenting a story in whichever way it needs to be told.

She and Sam have worked with a lot of youth. A student they both know has been on the set. Asghar said that when a 16-year-old is thinking about his or her own art, bringing them on set says to them “hey, you can make this happen.” For some young people, especially those who do not see themselves often reflected in popular media, must “see something in order to see it as a possibility.”

Asghar believed in the possibility of writing film when she saw You’re So Talented, and now Bailey is help bringing the message full-circle. Brown Girls, in some ways, is like a love letter to Chicago. Asghar said it’s “for my communities here that I found that love each other.”

Brown Girls is expected to launch in February 2017. It’s important to Asghar that many people can access it, so it’ll be featured on a free video platform, such as YouTube or Vimeo. You can follow updates to Brown Girls, like behind the scenes specials, on their Tumblr and Facebook page, and you can check out their GoFundMe here.

Posted by:C.S. Smith

Colin Smith is a Chicago-based writer. He led his college’s newspaper, wrote features for a magazine in Kenya, and wrote a thesis on the cultural iconography of the guitar. In addition to serving as editor for an environmental nonprofit, he is a freelance writer and writes psychedelic-pop songs.

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