Getting to Know “Lovers and Friends”

A standing-room-only crowd of fans greeted the cast of the
popular lesbian web series Lovers
and Friends
when they attended Black Pride in Washington, D.C.,
this past May. Cast members were stunned that after only four months online, the show had
made so many hard-core fans.

"They were actually calling us by name, which was
amazing to me," said cast member Nicole Pina, who has become something of a
local celebrity and sex symbol in South Florida
where the show is filmed.

"The response we got was phenomenal," she said of
the D.C. crowd. "I guess it was the first taste of stardom that we got. We
walked into the room expecting to see five, 10 people, and we walked in and
there’s about 300 to 400 people there that paid 15 dollars a piece to view our
show."

The show’s fans span the globe. "We receive feedback
from so many different countries," said Charmain Johnson, the show’s
writer, producer and director. The emails come from everywhere, from Australia to the Bahamas,
"but above all England.
We receive a lot of feedback from the U.K."

Johnson and several of the show’s cast members recently
chatted with AfterEllen.com about their experiences working on the
groundbreaking web series.

The Lovers and Friends
Show
, Johnson’s brainchild, premiered online in January. Set in South Florida, it follows the everyday drama-ridden lives
of a core group of six multiethnic lesbians of color and their friends and
lovers.

Tori (Nicole Pina) is fun-loving, easy-going character who
is having an affair with her boss. Dre (Shakelia Tharpe) is the brash gigolo, a
butch player with a stable of women at her beck and call. Lisa (Kendal Starr)
is a "good girl" femme and medical student who falls for Dre. Kai
(Marlaina Law) is the sweet and lovable butch knight in shining armor. Mercedes
(Christy Rodriguez) is Tori’s married-with-children boss, and Yasmin (BeBe
Brunswick) is the outspoken political activist of the group.

Johnson, a Miami native, is no newbie to creating film and
video projects focusing on women of color. Although Lovers and Friends is her first episodic effort, the 20-something
graduate of Florida Atlantic University has been working creatively for several
years. Her first feature-length film, Seeking
Sam
, told the story of a young woman who runs away from home when her secret
affair with her brother’s fiancée is revealed.

In 2005 she was a finalist in Black Entertainment Television’s
RAP It Up screenplay competition. Her entry, Secrets, tells the story of a couple dealing with HIV.

Johnson was inspired to create Lovers and Friends when she and her co-producer, Kay Greene,
attended Atlanta’s Black Pride celebration last year. She had a rough concept
of the show already but had shelved it. She was so inspired, however, by the
artists she met in Atlanta that she dusted off the script and began to shape it
into a web series when she got home.

She started with just three characters: Lisa, Kai and Dre. Lisa
was based on the person she feels her parents wanted her to be — a prim and
proper education-minded young lady.

She wrote Kai as the love interest, "the nice guy."
And Dre was Johnson’s alter ego.

"Dre represented the villain," Johnson explained. "She
could get away with doing a lot of things that not a lot of people could get
away with doing. She’s a stud and she didn’t care."

After she began getting a script into shape, Johnson and
Greene brainstormed about how they should present the show. "We decided
that we really wanted to do something that was online that could reach a
broader audience, so we went with that," she said.

Johnson said she revels in the fact that since the show is
on the internet and on DVD, "there is no real censorship about what we can
say and what we can talk about. We don’t have some network saying, ‘Hey, wait a
minute, you can’t say that.’"

She quickly added, "That isn’t to say that we wouldn’t
like to have a network."

When asked if any of the criticism that people have for The L Word played into how she crafted
the show, she made sure to stress that in no way was she trying to replicate
the Showtime series, but that she wanted to tell stories that reflected women
she knew. She wanted to show viewpoints and lives that were not present on The L Word, as the characters of Lovers and Friends reflect the mixture
of cultures in South Florida.

Judging by the number of views and comments about the show
on YouTube, the online community Downelink (which is part of Logo,
AfterEllen.com’s parent company) and the show’s website, Johnson has undeniably
fulfilled a craving in the lesbian community. Fans leave comments that range from
heartfelt praise for the show’s existence to raves about "how fine Kai is"
or rants about how "Dre is such a dog."

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