in Other

Interview with Zeba and Fariha from ‘Two Brown Girls’

Zeba Blay and Fariha Roisin are the masterminds behind “Two Brown Girls“, a pop culture podcast in which the duo often discuss issues of race, ethnicity, and gender – among other things. These two have got a passion for media that’s evident in each episode of “Two Brown Girls,” and they certainly don’t shy away from telling you exactly what they think, whether it’s about the lack of diversity on Girls, Jennifer Lawrence winning her first Oscar, or John Cho being sexy as all hell.

We had the fantastic opportunity to ask these two a few questions about the origins of their project.

1. How did you guys meet and what inspired the two of you to do “Two Brown Girls”? Were you always planning on doing a podcast together?

Zeba: We initially conceived of a web-series entitled ‘Two Brown Girls” about our daily experiences as women of color living in New York. The impetus for that was really Lena Dunham’s Girls which at the time we both found really frustrating, because we felt that show and Dunham was becoming a sort of icon that we felt wasn’t really very representative of a whole slew of women in our generation.

But then, Fariha was moving to Montreal and the web series didn’t get off the ground – we decided then that we could take the same ideas, thinking critically about pop culture and representation, by discussing it weekly and sharing our conversations with like-minded people.

Fariha: Zeba and I met while we were both working for a magazine/blog called Styelikeu. After about a month of seeing each other around the office we only finally talked when we were both asked to be in a photo shoot. While we were in the makeup room the first conversation we actually had centered around my favorite question to ask a new friend (High Fidelity style) “What’s your top 5 movies?”

Obviously it’s a bit reductive, but it’s often a nice way to gauge the person’s interests and to see what you have in common. Thankfully we were twin souls; we fangirled over a mutual favorite film – The Fall – and then Wes Anderson and then I believe men we found attractive. (How apt/telling!)

Looking back it was a very fortuitous moment as we now work primarily within film writing. Funnily enough, Zeba and I have wanted to collaborate together on all sorts of things. Firstly, a magazine, then a web series (the dialogue was pretty funny you guys!) and then this podcast. So it’s been quite a journey.

2. Race, ethnicity, and gender is a huge theme in the podcast. Why do you feel it’s important to talk about these issues, especially in regards to pop culture?

Zeba: It’s important to talk about these things mainly because there’s been this myth, this narrative telling us all to ignore these issues so that they’ll eventually go away. Our podcast is basically a fuck you in response to that, because it’s that very mode of ignoring said issues that’s resulted in the dearth of people of color, women, queer, and disabled people in movies and TV. It’s that mode that results in little black girls living in white suburbs growing up thinking that they’re worthless because they don’t look like Jennifer Lawrence or Angelina Jolie. It’s that mode that makes a white audience unable to see the humanity of a black character like Rue in The Hunger Games – an inability that directly ties into how they may feel about the humanity of POC in general.

Not to get too real, but at the end of the day this is some real shit – entertainment effects our attitudes and ideas about ourselves and each other more than we know, and me and Fariha want to call out the bad stuff and celebrate the good stuff but most importantly make sure that something is being discussed, always.

Fariha: I think it’s necessary, nay vital! And really the future of the pop culture rhetoric. I think that in order to truly transition into a more developed society we need to overcome some institutional problems, whether that pertains to race, class, etc. Open dialogue really is the only way any real change can come about and the truth is there are many misconceptions that our society still operates on, i.e. that we live in a post-feminist and/or a post-racial world, which is completely bogus.

Something that has become incontestable through the duration of this podcast is how much we need to have “this conversation” (in regards to race/feminism) because there are large numbers of people that are completely oblivious to the plight of POCs and WOCs in the world. And, of course, POCs are not exempted from being racist. I’ve heard a lot of racist things been said from people I know, whether they’re black or Asian or members of my family, so that’s why I always try to emphasize the importance of everyone’s education. This podcast isn’t about pointing out why white people are ignorant (though that is the conclusion we often come to…) but it’s about how all of us need to enlighten each other and one really effective way to do that is through communication.

3. How do you think your different backgrounds growing up has influenced the way you see pop culture? Having grown up in different countries and with different cultures, do you sometimes find it difficult to relate to each other?

Zeba: I think it’s great that me and Fariha are so different. We’re both women of color, we’re both writers, but the similarities end there. I grew up in a Ghanaian household, in a predominantly black and Latino neighborhood. She’s Bengali, grew up as often the only POC amongst a sea of white people. I definitely see how that’s colored our responses to certain things. There are moments on the podcast where I’ll be talking about something that Fariha will have no idea about (and vice versa), and I’ll kind of be like “How do you not know that?!” or “How can you not love that?!” And yet, I wouldn’t say that our differences make it hard to relate – I would say our differences have taught me a lot – whenever we disagree on something on the podcast, even if I’m frustrated, it’s always a learning experience.

Fariha: I actually think that’s one of the things that I like the most about us. Our backgrounds really allow us to see different perspectives. Zeba and I don’t agree all the time, in fact it’s common that we disagree. Coming from divergent spectrums – this is what colors (excuse the pun) the way we see the world and thus how we interact with each other and our culture-at-large. I think colorism is very relevant/integral to understanding societal racial implications/politics and it’s really taught me how privilege operates, i.e. the impact of your privilege and how accepting that really is a road to change.

Acknowledging each other’s struggle and realizing the importance of each person’s story has really opened us up as people, writers and women. At times it is hard to relate, but you just have to push through any kind of social conditioning to transcend to a place of understanding. I feel blessed to be doing this. This podcast has taught me so much.

4. What are your all­-time favorite films and why? If you were to make a movie together, who would be your top casting picks?

Zeba: There’s so many, obviously, but just off the top of my head I’d say Killer of Sheep, Magnolia, The Fall, Let the Fire Burn, Coming to America, Children of Men, and Singin’ in the Rain. I don’t know what Fariha’s going to say but if we made a movie I hope it’d be a romantic comedy starring me opposite Avan Jogia.

Fariha: Ha! Oh man, this is difficult. Well, I can start by saying that my favorite film of this year is Only Lovers Left Alive, which is the new Jarmusch film. I’m so corny but I love films about love. I’m actually currently reading Bell Hooks’ All About Love and I really gravitate towards stories that pertain to that. As a society, I feel like we really lack a lot of love and there’s so much trolling and hatred in this internet/Hackers (though sadly without Jonny Lee Miller) era. You’re behind a screen and so there’s an anonymity to you so you can often be hurtful without realizing it, or more ominously you hurt others with words because there is no consequence which is so fucking low.

I know it’s sappy as fuck, but I just wish we were kinder to each other, and more accepting and loving. In her book, hooks talks about how as a society we’re afraid and I think a lot of everything just comes down to fear. Fear is ostensibly innocuous but it permeates everything: fear of love, fear of commitment, fear of the other. Racism and sexism are both systemic of fear and I don’t mean to go all Donnie Darko on you right now but the opposite of it is loving – opening up to life and people. Okay, okay end hippie rant.

Now you’re going to see a trend, my faves are: I Am Love, In The Mood For Love, The Royal Tenenbaums, Lost In Translation, Howl’s Moving Castle. My other favorites this year were Before Midnight, Salma, Touch of Sin, Like Father Like Son, Museum Hours, Gloria, and so many more! Who would I get to play me? The thing is there are NOT ENOUGH WOC in Hollywood! Ya hear that Hollywood? Like, there’s two South Asian “Hollywood” actresses that I can think of right now: Mindy Kaling and Frieda Pinto, so, like…

5. What are each of your personal plans for the future? What’s next for Two Brown Girls?

Zeba: I’m gearing up for grad school (against my better judgement), and of course still writing film and cultural criticism for several outlets. I’m also working on the makings of a book about the representation of POC in genre film and television. For the podcast, we’re just going to keep on keeping on. We’re also excited to be getting a series of special guests whom we really admire to join in on the conversation as well.

Fariha: I want to be an all encompassing writer. So, if I could write pieces here and there for The New Yorker, The New York Times be an editor for The New Inquiry (so basically be the female Teju Cole), get this book of mine published (Yo, Harper Perennial, get at me!) and write essays and criticism for the rest of my life, I’ll be happy. So, that’s the trajectory.

RE: 2BG, we have big visions for it and I think both of us are really ecstatic by the response that we’ve already gotten. It’s been up and running for less than a year and it’s been exciting to see how the podcast has evolved, along with us. Personally, I’d like to be doing this for years to come (if I can) and if we have listeners, why not! So listen to us guys, we’re kind of a big deal.

Keep up with Zeba, Fariha, and the “Two Brown Girls” project by visiting their blog, following on Twitter @TwoBrwnGirls, and subscribing to the “2BG” podcast. Follow Zeba at @zblay and Fariha at @Mofafafafa.