Brown Girls, the critically acclaimed OpenTV web series that debuted on Elle’s website in February, is headed to HBO.
Screenwriter Fatimah Asghar and director Samantha Bailey discussed the deal in an interview with Elle this morning, emphasizing the “grassroots” origins of the project — group brainstorming on Facebook and friends volunteering to come down to the set to do work for free. The series, set in Chicago, will be translated to HBO with this same DIY spirit, Asghar says: ”It's a city that is very mercurial, resourceful, and sly in a way that I love. I want to carry some of that over to television. We don't want a show that is flashy and smooth. We want a show that is gritty. That has this kind of realness to it.”
Asghar is best known for this project and her popular contemporary poetry. Bailey has also garnered attention for another OpenTV web series You’re So Talented, as well as an upcoming partnership with Chance the Rapper and Jamila Woods, coordinating a music video they hope will be directed by a high school student, in collaboration with Chicago Public Schools. Bailey tells Elle that music will be an important part of the HBO series, noting, “Chicago has an amazing music scene and we were lucky to include a bunch of artists in our series. All but one were Chicago-based and all of them were women of color.”
“Without Issa [Rae]... people would not have looked at us or taken us seriously”
This marks HBO’s third high-profile web series pickup, following Issa Rae’s Insecure (originally the YouTube series Awkward Black Girl) and Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair’s High Maintenance (originally on Vimeo). It’s a move that seems to be doing well for them, particularly in the case of Insecure, which was a critical hit and has already propelled Rae to mainstream stardom. She’s reportedly in talks to write the Tumblr-inspired screenplay for Ava DuVernay’s Rihanna and Lupita N’yongo-led caper film.
Brown Girls is centered on the friendship between Leila (Nabila Hossain), a queer Muslim woman, and Patricia (Sonia Denis), a young black woman, as they explore their identities and contextualize their relationships. In an interview with Jezebel in February, Bailey said comparisons to Broad City and Girls weren’t entirely accurate, noting that Brown Girls “fall[s] in with Awkward Black Girl, with Insecure and Atlanta. These are young people of color who are fully involved in telling their version of their story.”
In today’s interview, Asghar referenced Rae again, saying, “Without Issa, and all the things she did to knock doors open, people would not have looked at us or taken us seriously. She kind of paved the way for us and we can do that for other folks. I hope we can do that for other girls.”