Meenakshi Ramamurthy is the creator and Noopur Sinha is the producer of The Fob and I, a web series about two Indian cousins in L.A., bridging the gap between their different backgrounds.
Jisha (played by Uttera Singh) grew up in a small town in India, while her cousin Sita (Shefali Deshay) has lived her whole life in the U.S. The two are forced to share an apartment together in Hollywood. The first season of The Fob and I was a success, with the show named one of Indiewire’s top five webseries picks of 2015, featured on Public Radio International as a solution to Hollywood’s diversity problem, and appearing on the front page of NBC News as a series that, “tackl[ed] the unspoken Hollywood edict that… discourages storytellers from constructing two leads of color.”
As they prepare for their second season, Ramamurthy and Sinha reflected on the lessons they learned, making a series that deliberately set out to be diverse on and off screen. — MM Editors
A Lot of People Just Won’t Get It. And That’s OK.
When we first pitched The Fob and I, a lot of people just didn’t get the differences between Indians and Indian-Americans and how that simple concept could carry a show. They wanted us to focus on the careers of our characters and how that defined their personalities as an odd couple. But for us, the show was way more than something about jobs. Our goal was to develop a series that used humor to highlight the divide between two nations. We stuck to our guns and created a show explicitly about the differences in culture, identity and upbringing of two women and how those created conflict.
Don’t Be Afraid to Be Specific.
When you make content with people of color (POC), a big worry is that other races won’t relate or connect with your characters. For The Fob and I, we found the opposite to be true. Non-South Asians have found that they were able to get invested in our characters because our specificity made them more real. Through Jisha and Sita, audiences could understand and laugh along with the appropriations our characters faced every day. Our mission was to reverse perceptions. When audiences thought of the word “Bollywood,” their knee-jerk reaction was a vision of dancing in railway stations to “Jai Ho.” But our “Bollywood” episode emphasized the genre’s ability to explore romance, travel and the desire to dream big. Think about how your content can allow people a window into what life is like for people other than themselves, and if done well, no matter the race, they’ll see themselves in it.
You are an Expert, but Keep Listening.
So you didn’t get a Masters degree or PhD in the history of an ethnicity. That’s OK. Your everyday life is full of experiences that you are the expert on. Your daily interactions are unique and deserve to be told. That said, when there’s research to be done, do it. That’s what the Internet, libraries and, you know, actual conversations with other people are for. If an actor, producer, or even your PA on set tells you that one of your characters is doing something that doesn’t seem genuine to his or her race or background, listen up and weigh their opinions. If you’ve committed to making diverse content, commit to making those representations accurate and authentic.
Even Small Content has the Potential to Make a Big Difference.
So you made a web series, an Instagram post or a thought-provoking Snapchat. If the Internet has proven anything, it’s that you can say big things in five seconds or 140 characters or less. Don’t take that power lightly. And don’t just settle for cat memes! With The Fob and I, tons of people wrote to us after our “Chai Tea” episode, saying they didn’t know that the word “chai” actually meant “tea.” They loved how something as simple as chai spoke volumes about diaspora and identity. A tiny cup of tea wasn’t just a fancy name invented by your local Starbucks anymore; it was a culturally significant drink with its own history! People wanted to learn the original recipe for how to make a chai that didn’t come from powder. Give power to the small stuff and you’ll find you can tell a compelling story quickly and engagingly.
There’s an Audience. It Just Might Take a While to Find it.
It’s hard out there when you make something. You pour yourself into a project and the world doesn’t always answer back. But remember not to operate in a vacuum. Share your work with your family, friends and colleagues. Yes, do it! But beware that sometimes even your best friends won’t follow everything you do. It stinks, but that’s not a reason to publicly de-friend them—it’s motivation to find that niche group that is inspired by your content and becomes your army of loyal cheerleaders. You might not go viral, but trust in yourself that what you made is meaningful and necessary. Because it is. Plus, if you email enough press outlets, eventually you’ll get a nice email back.
Haters Gonna Hate… ’til it Turns Out Great.
It’s gonna happen. People who hated your idea from the beginning will suddenly change their tune. Those cynics will see it all come together and will be wowed at what you did. No need to send them a nasty Facebook message—you’re better than that. You already did your job. You proved that diverse content is vital, necessary, and when done well, just plain good. Now go out there and do it again. We need you to. MM
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