It’s a refrain that we’ve heard over and over and over again in various forms: people of color are severely underrepresented in film and television. Yet when it comes to the digital realm, at least, creators of color have been making huge strides.
The success of Issa Rae’s Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and her transition to HBO is the golden standard, but web series like Brown Girls, America Ferrera’s Gente-Fied, and Pretty are putting talent of color on the map. Now, two women want to create a web series that will not only portray what life is like for first generation South Asian Muslims in America today, but also open up a dialogue about issues that affect all kinds of immigrant communities.
It’s called Unfair & Ugly. Stranger Magic Productions, the team behind it, want it to deal with the world of dating, dealing with parental expectations, cultural clashes, and travel bans through the eyes of a Pakistani American family in Orange County. Created by Yumna Khan and Nida Chowdhry, the show hopes to be an honest and frank look at the lives of first generation South Asian Muslims.
Khan, who has a background in production management, and Chowdhry, who has a background in writing, improv, and theater, are crowdfunding the first season on IndieGoGo, where it’s raised $30,893 (as of this posting) and become the sixth most funded project on the site’s Web Series & TV Shows category. While there are no episodes out currently, Khan and Chowdhry have produced a concept trailer to give viewers a glimpse of what could be.
Unfair & Ugly grew out of an absence of South Asian TV shows, or even shows that featured South Asian characters who weren’t harmful stereotypes. To Khan and Chowdhry, this underrepresentation was a form of erasure, and they’re aiming to remedy that with a diverse cast in front of the camera and a diverse crew behind the scenes.
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“It’s really important for us to see that kind of diversity,” Khan told me over the phone. “It’s really important for Nida and I to have a world where POC are in the foreground because that is not what we typically see on TV. That’s why we wanted to create this, to show that we exist, and we’re in your world, and we live in it with you.”
Chowdhry explained that, as she and Khan developed the series, they discussed how in mainstream stories people of color aren’t just excluded from lead roles, but sometimes they’re even excluded from extra roles.
“It’s like we literally don’t exist in that imagination of The OC or whatever show—we’re not there,” she said. “There’s this moment when you’re watching as a person of color, as a minority, as an immigrant, as whatever your background is, and it’s like, ‘Hello? Do you not see me? I’m here! I go to that coffee shop, I also go to that pho place. I also have a family, I also go to school, I also have a job.’”
While Khan and Chowdhry had been batting the idea of Unfair & Ugly around over the last year, Donald Trump’s election inspired them to get the ball rolling.
“I remember the day of the election we were both so shocked and surprised and saddened, but then we were like, we need to do this, we have to do a show and bring out the voices of our community members,” Khan said.
The show would also delve into a number of issues that not only often go unaddressed in mainstream depictions of people of color, but are often brushed under the carpet within the communities themselves, like family dysfunction, mental health, and racism. It’s one reason why it’s called Unfair & Ugly.
“As social creatures we’re constantly performing and it’s not polite to talk about real issues in the personal way,” Chowdhry said. “It can be challenging to admit that you’re struggling with mental health, it can be challenging to admit that there’s internalized racism within your own family. With a TV show it’s a step removed from your personal life. you can see yourself on screen and deal with it that way and it opens up room for conversation.”
Of course, some folks will recognize that Unfair & Ugly itself is a play on Fair & Lovely, a massively popular skin whitening face cream used in India and other South Asian countries.
“There’s all these messages that we are not acceptable in the way that we were born,” Chowdhry continued. “That we need to change ourselves to be acceptable...that’s the message that we’re arguing against.”
As ambitious as Unfair & Ugly sounds, its foundation is simple: Just consider another perspective. Take a look at life through someone else’s eyes.
“In the same way we’ve seen shows on TV for our whole lives that are centered around white protagonists and white families and we saw them as universal,” Chowdry said, “this is a universal story that people of various backgrounds can relate to.”