by Montgomery Jones
Issa Rae is something of a legend in the YouTube/webseries community. Her successful show The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl has garnered positive feedback from The New York Times, Forbes, and viewers around the world. With masterminds like Shonda Rhimes and Pharrell reaching out to Ms. Rae, it’s safe to say this “awkward black girl” has just begun her world domination. A book deal, an HBO show in the works, and slew of other online shows–what’s left to do? But even with people like Issa Rae and Shonda Rhimes creating amazing television shows, there’s still a gaping hole in terms of people of color, women, and LGBTQIA writers in TV. Without a diverse group of writers, there’s a lack of diversity in the scripts themselves resulting in the same people on our television screens night after night. Issa Rae has set to correct this with her new initiative, ColorCreative.TV. ColorCreative developed three 30-minute pilots, which were then released on YouTube in pursuit of the studios checking them out and a loyal audience developing. The shows–Bleach, Words with Girls, and So Jaded–are vastly different from one another, which makes this initiative even more courageous. I was lucky enough to talk to Brittani Nichols about the show she writes and stars in, Words with Girls.
Congrats on Words with Girls! It has fantastic reviews and is one of the three shows featured on Issa Rae’s Color Creative! Did you apply for WWG to be showcased or did someone reach out to you?
Deniese Davis, the co-founder of Color Creative, reached out to an email list I’m on soliciting half-hour comedy scripts. No questions asked I just sent my script off into the void and weeks later I got an email from Issa and Deniese saying they liked my script and asking if I’d want to take a meeting with them. So I guess it was a mix of both, though it wasn’t them seeking me out personally. They’d never seen the webseries so it was all sort of by chance.
I noticed that there were cast changes from the initial season to the 25 minute pilot episode under Color Creative, is this in the same universe with different friends or just completely different people?
The world is the same but it’s a pretty different tone than the webseries, and I think the medium of television called for different characters. If this goes to series, I’d love to have those actors [from the webseries], Lauren Neal and Hannah Hart, involved though playing different roles since everyone just played a wacked out version of themselves in the web version. The most obvious pull from the webseries is each episode being themed around a word but other than that, it’s sort of a different beast altogether, though it’s obviously still about lesbians in LA.
WWG has an entire season of 3 minute episodeson YouTube. Is the intent of Color Creative to get this show on network television?
Our goal for the current incarnation of the show is for it to go to series on a cable network or streaming platform like Netflix, Amazon, etc. I think we proved that we can make something of quality on a low budget so it sort of blows my mind to think about what we’d be able to do with a lot more time and resources. Hopefully someone else will be blown away by this prospect and decide to pick-up the show.
Words with Girls in hilarious in that it captures those offhanded remarks people make to their best friends, one that any bystander may not understand. How do you get the dialogue to hold such an important and almost sacred tone? Do you ever improvise?
For the most part everything I write starts with conversations I have by myself–let’s call it one woman improvising so I sound less crazy–and then figuring out who the characters are from that. I think writing the story based on the characters that come from that process rather than the other way around definitely positions the dialogue as the most important thing because to me, it is. I love how groups of friends talk and how their collective vocabulary shifts together.
I read you describe yourself as a triple minority in that you are black, queer, and a woman. I can imagine you get this quite often but why is important that we talk about race, sexuality, gender, etc.? Why is representation itself so crucial?
I think the more specific your point of view, the stronger your voice is and the more relatable you are. So being the the most female, the most black, and the most gay I can be is really the way to reach the most people because at the end of the day, all of those experiences are human, and though the details might be more applicable to certain groups, the underlying feelings that inform my point of view are universally relatable. There are so many other stories being ignored for the sake of white heterocentric narratives. We could stop making shows about straight white men right now and there would still be enough to last until the end of time. Television and movies are all about recreating the human experience, and when you’re blatantly excluding certain types of people, the underlying message is “you aren’t part of this experience” which is bullshit.
Admiration does not even remotely summarize how I feel about your ability to bring up and make light of some pretty heavy stuff, things that in my opinion other shows and movies would not dare touch. From being the “token” black friend and being intimidated by another black person (which to verbally say or even type sounds kind of loony but is actually quite common) to the somewhat offensive offhanded remarks friends may say in casual conversations about being black. I loved “she probably uses more slang than me” in one episode. Why do we feel like we are almost in a competition to be “blacker” than another?
Well that is super kind so thank you. I’m super self-aware and so the show has no choice but to be the same way, which causes a lot of reflection on sensitive topics. And truth be told, it’s sort of hard to talk about certain subjects when the people that face them aren’t present, which is often the case in media and probably why it feels like that’s lacking on the whole. When you’re queer or trans or of color or a woman or some combination of those things, how you experience the world is not only informed by your own insecurities but also how other people’s insecurities are put onto you in pretty serious ways sometimes. I want to do that and take it one step further, as was the case with “Token,” and show what it looks like when these groups put these insecurities onto each other but still have it be super real and funny.
If the show is picked up what will the central theme be? What is it about Los Angeles that attracts characters like Pace, Aspen, and Micky? The city itself almost acts as a fourth cast member.
The show will focus on the struggles they go through to keep their relationships intact depending on how their careers, what brought them all to Los Angeles, are progressing (or not progressing). LA is this place where people are rarely happy with where they are lifewise so there’s a lot of the “putting my career before a relationship” talk, which is all fine and good until people wake up one day and they’re like, “FUCK.” I think a lot of people find themselves wondering if they passed up on one type of happiness to achieve this other kind of happiness, when I think probably happiness is happiness and if there’s a way you can achieve it, you should just fucking go for it. But this is coming from someone who feels like they only understand what happiness is in theory so maybe don’t listen to me. So yeah, it’ll be a lot of grappling with that.