The Black experience is anything but one-dimensional. Unique in generation, religion, socio-economic background, location and anything else that makes human beings different, we all have different stories to tell. And filmmakers are finally getting the chance to demystify that idea that Black women are mysterious unicorns.
Like Issa Rae, Ava DuVernay and Shonda Rhimes, Sam Bailey is joining the powerful legion of women to tell our stories, accurately. Bailey’s new series Brown Girls is the platform she’s using, with the help of writer, Fatimah Asghar.
The web series is about two friends in their mid-twenties, Patricia, a Black-American musician and Leila, a South Asian-American writer who’s friendship endures life lessons and maturing into their womanhood. Adding to the artsy vibe of the project is original music from Chicago songstress, Jamila Woods.
ESSENCE had the pleasure of talking to Sam about her new series, filmmaking, love of Chicago’s art scene, and identity.
How did you learn the art of filmmaking?
My background is not in film, it’s in theatre. So, to be honest, I learned by doing. I started with my first web series You’re So Talented, and just learned on the set. I’ve worked with some amazing cinematographers (Mateo Gonzales and Hannah Welever) and they’ve helped me on the technical side. But, for the most part, I’ve just learned by doing a lot of different projects and making sure I’m listening to my instincts behind the camera.
Through your lens, what do you feel like you bring to the world of filmmaking? Growing up were there any stories you wanted to see on the big or small screen that you didn’t?
I think I bring a very unique and authentic look at Chicago as both a location and bigger character in my stories. I’m in love with that city and it’s so rare that I see it reflected in the way I’ve come to know and love it. I also like to believe that I can find some of the humor in the dark moments. I’m not a huge fan of slapstick comedy but I do like finding the light in some really depressing moments, so I try to do that in all of my work. Growing up, there were so little depictions of ordinary Black folks, you know? So little representation of ordinary brown people and I think that put a pressure on me that’s unrealistic to uphold. So often in the media we’re either crackheads or Olivia Pope and while those type of people do exist, there was so little room for us to fall somewhere in the middle. It’s getting better, but…not fast enough, in my opinion.
Do you feel a certain responsibility to be “woke” in writing your projects?
I don’t feel a responsibility to be woke. I am woke, right? Like, I’m a Black woman in America. I have no choice but to be woke —it’s a survival tactic. But through all of that I’m telling the stories I want to tell about the people I want to explore. I don’t feel pressured to do that, I feel excited to do that. I want to explore and highlight this group of people I so rarely get to see be three-dimensional in front of and behind the camera. It’s not a burden, it’s a gift.
With Jamila Woods on board for Brown Girls, what have you learned about music’s place in telling your stories?
I think it’s the difference between just having a script and making a f**king story, you know? Jamila’s music —as well as the other musicians we included in the soundtrack—really uplifts Fati’s script and my images and all of that. It’s a component that I think is just as important as all of the other parts of the filmmaking world.
Tell me about your work with VAM Studio in Chicago?
VAM is a creative production studio that both highlights artists in the city and creates work with them. We’re aware and appreciative of the art scene that’s already making waves in the city but we’re also interested in shedding some light on new artists who would not, under other circumstances, get the press and shine they deserve. I work as the Digital Art Director, so a lot of my job is around making sure the video portion of our work meets our standards. But the team is this close knit group of working artists, all under the direction of the founder Vincent Martell (my work husband and best friend). We’re definitely looking to shake some stuff up and expand our reach in the near future.
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When was the first time you realized you were a Black girl?
I always knew I was Black and because I grew up in a Black family and a Black church-I didn’t think that was a bad thing until I went to college and studied theatre. In acting, all of the things that made me special were whittled down to me being just a Black girl. I wasn’t Sam anymore, I was “black girl who enters left”. If I was allowed to be on stage, more often than not, it felt like I was there to fill a quota —not because I brought something unique to the table. It was a hard pill to swallow. Later on, once I got fed up with that life, I’ve been able to claim that title for myself and make it a positive thing. I am a Black girl. I’m also a filmmaker. And an artist. And a friend and a feminist and a needy lover and a messy person, etc etc. I’m all of those things. And I wear those titles proudly.
To watch Sam Bailey’s Brown Girls and learn more about the series go here.