Every once in a while, someone will an episode of Black Girl in a Big Dress and ask me: “Sooo…. Do you really do this stuff?”
And to them, I submit this photo as evidence.
Then I usually start talking about the joys of English Country Dance and they stop asking me questions after that.
Since we’re rolling into production on a new season, I’m getting this question a lot more than usual. And it got me thinking: Yes, I do do this stuff, but why? Why did period dramas grab my imagination so?
I think there are five main reasons.
Beautiful Costumes, obvs!
My goodness. Put this many clothes on anyone and they will look amazing! A corset or a cravate flatters every single person who has ever been or whoever will be. If I could get away with wearing a hoopskirt or bustle dress every time I went to Trader Joe’s, I would never leave Trader Joe’s.
Simple But Effective and Universal Stories
Listen, I have no problem with a Tinker Tailor Soldier Cerebral story. But I can’t help but love the simplicity of most period dramas. Sure, there may be the odd twist here or there (What? He was a peer the whole time??) but the driving forces of the stories are straightforward and something everyone can relate to. Characters want to fall in love or save their homes or find the object or get to the place or get home from the place. And all of us have those same basic, big shapes driving our own lives.
Characters you can happily releate to and enthusiastically root for
There’s a lot to be cynical and frustrated about these days. It’s very easy to look at the news, or read anything, or check social media for just 5 seconds and discover a world of pain and disappointment. And I have no problem with art exploring these pains. It’s an important function of art and storytelling to do so.
But I have always longed for stories that make me feel good when I watch them, despite what may be going on in the world.
Period dramas are often set in challenging times or characters are dealing with challenging things, but the characters meet those challenges with strength and determination. If these protagonists push love away for instance, it’s because of real fear or real obligation. These leading ladies and gentlemen tend to be honestly trying to do what they think is right. They are characters it’s easy to feel good about supporting without wondering if relating to them means that you hate yourself as much as they do.
There are some just straight up villains (I’m looking at you George Warleggan!), but often when characters are annoying or making things difficult, they’re still doing it from a good place. Mrs. Bennet for example may be hella pushy about her girls getting married, but she knows that if they don’t, they will lose their home and no mother wants to see her daughters turned out on the street.
The shows themselves also seem to want the best for the characters that are in them. I love contemporary rom coms, but sometimes, it feels like the films delight in seeing their characters as humiliated as possible (yes, I understand that from humiliation can come redemption...I know how character arcs work)...and there’s so much unnecessary pain in the world that I sometimes grow weary of watching someone get hurt, physically or emotionally, just for a laugh. There’s so much information thrown at us every day that it’s easy to quickly dismiss a pain or suffering or a joy; so I like finding stories that indulge us in characters’ happiness and present real empathy toward their sadness.
My first favourite book was Fear of Flying, which has a very ambigious ending, so I don’t mind an unsettled conclusion. However, I sometimes I do just long for a final shot that shows our characters absolutely and unapologetically happy. I could join the cynical chorus and say that Happy Ever After doesn’t really exist. But I don’t want that to be true, so I actively choose to believe that Happy Endings are possible. Here’s to period shows for giving them to us more often than not.
They're all about breaking out of boxes
Whether the story is about love across class lines, having a career despite your sex, choosing love over inheritance or pushing back against the duties of your title, these stories tend to ultimately be about breaking out of the boxes that society has shoved us into.
As a woman, a person of color, and a woman of color, I can certainly speak to this idea. I have spent my life being told that I’m not black enough, that I’m not feminine enough, that I’m too feminine, that I’m being too outspoken, that I’m not standing up for my people enough, that I need to stop standing up for my people and listen to others, that I can’t like certain things, that I should like other things, that everything is terrible and that everything is fine. It’s exhausting.
So I love watching stories where people stand up to what the world tells them they should be and then blow those parameters away with inner strength, focus, and determination.
And, finally...yes, I'm totally a feminist, but....
Those longing looks...much smoldering...
I’ll be honest right up at the top of this piece. I have an Indiegogo campaign running to help us produce the second season of Black Girl in a Big Dress and I hope that you’ll consider contributing to it.
I also hope that you’ll consider contributing to other crowd funding campaigns, especially if you want to see more diversity in Hollywood. Because it’s these smaller shows that will give diverse candidates the experience needed to get jobs working for major studios so that the game continues to be changed.
A Little Bit of Background
For the last 16 years, I have worked for major studios in production management, all while producing my own content independently. This dual experience has given me a really unique perspective on what it takes to work in this town.
On one hand, I know what it is to be a scrappy one-woman show, pooling together every single resource you can and hoping that you can convince enough people to turn up to your screening. I also know what it’s like to have the backing and budget of a major studio behind you, throwing money at every single problem and paying creatives top dollar for less work than you’d expect.
It would be easy to for me join the cynical chorus of people who say things like “Hollywood only makes remakes and franchises,” “Hollywood doesn’t care about real creativity,” “Executives aren’t creative at all--you have to spell everything out for them.”
I could join that chorus...if I thought that any of that were true.
Yes, Hollywood makes a lot of remakes and franchises. No, Hollywood doesn’t cast unknown actors, writers, or directors in A-list spots. And yes, if you’re pitching, you often have to walk an executive through every step of your vision.
But that’s because show business is a business and in order to be successful in that business, one has to make decisions from a business perspective. When you’ve got 80 or 100 million dollars on the line, of course you want to hedge your bets by making material that has already sold so that you’re pretty sure you can sell it again. I mean, there’s a reason all cars basically look and run the same—why take an incredibly expensive chance to reinvent something that could cost you everything?
When talking about how to help Hollywood tell stories that are more reflective of the world we live in, we have two choices. We can complain, or we can take action. I am excited to be taking action through my webseries. There’s nothing like Black Girl in a Big Dress on TV right now, and judging by the fan response, it wouldn’t be a terrible thing if that changed. I’m excited to be able to show producers and executives another slice of diverse content that speaks to so many people; and I truly believe that the more they see of shows like this, the easier it will be for them to greenlight shows like this—whether those shows are mine or other deserving projects.
Diversity Isn’t Just What You See On Camera
One of the big challenges that Hollywood has in terms of making more diverse, inclusive, and representative content is that while we are starting to see more and more inclusive faces on screen, there’s still a dearth of inclusivity behind the scenes. The decision-makers are still mostly pretty homogenous. And as good as their intentions may be, they simply may not have the life experience that would have exposed them to a wide variety of ideas and people from whom those ideas come.
And it's not just important that executives and producers become more diverse. The more diverse Art Directors, Grips, Gaffers, Prop Masters, Visual FX Artists, Wardrobe Stylists, Unit Photographers, etc. there are, the more that all parts of every production will benefit. It's not just about having diverse bodies in the stories, it's also about supporting their diversity by having their environments properly dressed, their lighting showing them off in the best way, their clothes speaking properly to their body types and backgrounds, the candid photos that publicity will use be flattering and true.
Again, it would be easy to join the chorus of voices that say that the folks doing the hiring are just giving into their biases, unconscious or otherwise; and that they’re not hiring more women, people of color, people with disabilities, etc., because they’re too happy to keep the old boy’s club going. One of the most pernicious laments of the MeToo movement is people saying that Hollywood will just keep hiring more men so that it really is an all boys’ club again so that there are no women to hold men accountable.
Having been responsible for hiring people at a few major studios, I can tell you, it’s not that simple.
Getting Behind the Camera
Here’s how hiring normally works: HR sends the person in need of an employee a bunch of resumes that they have already culled from submission, meetings, networking events, etc. The person who needs a new employee must review these resumes and cover letters, all while doing the rest of their insanely busy job. We get just a few seconds with each application and have to make a decision based on that. Production moves too quickly and there’s just no time to do a super deep dive without putting expensive deadlines at risk.
We find a few resumes we like, set up interviews, and pick the candidate who was the least awkward and hope for the best.
Or, yes, sometimes, a candidate has an existing relationship with someone at the studio and that person can shortcut through some of the above.
There have been many times when I could tell that someone would probably be a great fit, but didn’t have enough experience to justify bringing them in for an interview. Working on smaller projects, like webseries—especially if those webseries are hits—can give people much needed production experience. However, it’s hard for a lot of people to justify working on an independent project if that project cannot pay them for their time. And a LOT of independent projects do not pay people for their time. Nothing against those filmmakers, it’s a very expensive process and not everyone has the money to be able to share the wealth.
Women and people of color are less likely to be in a financial position to be able to work for free; and they are more likely to be in a position where they must financially support others—either their children (as women are still more likely to be responsible for most domestic work at home) or family members (Rates of kinship care are much higher in communities of color). This makes it extra hard for talented, but not wealthy, people to get the experience they need to be able to get themselves into a good job on a studio lot.
Here’s Where The Webseries Comes In
BGBD works very hard to pay people for their time. One of the reasons we are looking to raise this money is so that we can give people a decent paycheck for their work so that they can put great experience on their resumes so they can transition into full time jobs wherever they like.
Our core creative team is women—Writer/Producer, Director, and Editor are all women; and our production staff includes people of color, immigrants, and more women.
(And yes, we have a few white guys involved, too. Sometimes people have pushed back saying that the entire crew should be women. But I believe that a big part of advancing feminism is having more men get used to working for more women who are in charge of things J )
How You Can Help
First and foremost, if you can contribute to our Indiegogo, that would be amazing. Even a few dollars makes a big difference. The more people who donate (at whatever amount), the more we can prove that shows like this have real support, and the more likely studios are to pick up shows like ours.
If contributing isn’t for you right now, that’s totally OK! You can still help by sharing our posts and videos, and liking and commenting on the same.
You can find us:
If you are interested increasing the inclusivity you see on screen, I would also encourage you to check out other crowdfunding campaigns, especially those with a good track record and ones which are endeavoring to pay their crews. And if there's anything you think we should be watching, reply here with the link so we can all see it!
(In the interest of transparency, I am also happy to chat with anyone about budget details, just shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org).
It’s a very exciting time in Hollywood. I’m excited to be a part of this change and I can’t wait to see what’s next for all of us!
If you have any questions about the show, or about working in the entertainment industry, reach out! Happy to be helpful!
...of the Second Chapter
I couldn’t figure out what to call this post
First, I know that every time I post something, I say thank you about a billion times. I worry that it comes across as insincere, but it’s really really not.
I never dreamed that so many people would be excited about this little show, so I really do thank you all so very much for watching and writing. I know that I can be pretty slow to respond. But please know that I read everything and it means the world to myself and the cast and crew to hear from people. Tis truly muchly appreciated.
Okay, here’s where I take off the corset and get real.
A couple of weeks ago, GLOW actress Betty Gilpin wrote this amazing piece called “Why Acting is a Seesaw of Death.” The piece explains the huge emotional journeys that actors go on as they try to land, and then keep, roles. It describes how exhausting and confusing auditioning is, how even when you’re on a show, it doesn’t feel like you’re going to be for long, and how landing a great role is no measure of job security.
I read this piece when it came out--as you might expect, lots of my friends are actors, so the article was widely shared in my social media. And when I read it, I tried to immediately forget about it.
My anxiety has been a constant companion for years. It’s kept me up for nights on end. It’s disrupted my eating. It’s made me cling to toxic people and shun healthy ones. It’s made me sabotage great opportunities and settle for repeating mistakes. And it nearly kept me from making Black Girl in a Big Dress at all.
I’ve made huge progress in the last few year or so. I got a coach who really helped me put things into perspective. I built an amazing library of really effective self help books. I started meditation. I got my eating under control for the first time since I was a teenager. I’ve rebuilt friendships and had the courage to say goodbye to ones that weren’t working for me. I’ve learned to accept that sometimes I’m gonna feel terrible but that the feeling will pass and that I can just observe those challenging emotions instead of indulging in them.
And I’ve felt amazing. It’s awesome to wake up excited most days and it feels fantastic to not be terrified of every decision. But it takes work. Every day. It takes serious, focused work every day. And when I mess up and slip back into old thought patterns, it takes extra extra work to get back on track.
One of the things that has allowed me to feel better is that I actively avoid pieces that talk about how difficult this career I’ve chosen is. There’s a mantra in the personal work I’m doing that says “that which you focus on, you make more of.” So if you focus on how hard things are, that is what you will notice and draw toward yourself--the struggle. But the truth is that yes, things can be hard, but they can also be easy. And if you focus your thoughts and energy all the opportunities around you, that is what you will see more of and that is what you will draw toward you.
I’ve found that for me, this mantra holds true.
So when I read Ms. Gilpin’s piece, it felt nostalgic and real; but it also felt like something I didn’t want to spend much time with.
Until I started producing Season 2.
And all the insecurities and anxieties came rushing back. Imposter syndrome took hold and I spent a couple of days back in bed with my old friend anxiety. The dozens of daily phone calls it takes to pull a shoot together triggered my introvertism. And the hundreds of decisions one has to make every day made me want to call the whole thing off.
And I thought of Ms. Gilpin’s essay.
She ends the piece by saying how important it is to get back up again and how ultimately that’s what makes a career. I totally agree.
She also reminds us that part of being a creative is that you have huge feelings. Those huge feelings are what compel us to express whether it’s through paint or film or dance or flower arranging. It’s been great to feel freedom from some of the pain of the past. But honestly, it was nice to be reminded that it’s so near the surface. The self-love I feel from creation helps keep the demons at bay. And descending into filmed fantasty helps me fight the fears.
And as nervous as I am tonight, I know that tomorrow is going to be spectacular!
Join us, won’t you!
Moments of self-reflection notwithstanding, we really are so excited about Season Two!!
All the characters you love are back and we’ve got some great new folks to introduce you to! There’s new dresses! There’s dancing! And there’s a great story underneath it all about how all of us are just trying to write our own fairy tales and find our own happy endings.
You can also help us make this season. Black Girl in a Big Dress is an independent, self-funded venture and we could use your support to finish bringing it to life. If you have a moment, check out our Indiegogo page. If donating isn’t for you right now, that’s totally OK!! Sharing the link or any of our episodes will be a huge help and we’d super appreciate it.
We’ll be sharing tons of stuff from set, so please keep in touch.