As a part of the LGBTQ community, it is impossible to ignore our lack of presence on television and in films. It seems that even when we do find characters to relate to, such as Alice, the lesbian bunny on NBC’s short-lived show, The Playboy Club, the network pulls the plug on it before it is given a chance. Meanwhile, it seems as though no matter what time of day it is, new and old episodes of Two and a Half Men are readily available. As far as representation goes, a show about a loser single father and his gassy son living with his douchebag, womanizing brother is about as far from my reality as it gets. So why does this keep happening and what can we do to stop it? Well my friends, we might have just figured it all out.
Not too long ago, celebrated writer/director Shamim Sarif and producer Hanan Kattan, decided to revisit the film they created together that was inspired by their own love story: I Can’t Think Straight (2008). The plot centers around Tala and Leyla, two young women (one of Indian and the other of Middle Eastern descent) coming to terms with their sexuality and their growing love for one another. As if all of those feelings aren’t enough to deal with, they have to do it while surrounded by extended family. Those of you who have already seen the film know how what a breath of fresh air it is compared to the doom and gloom of so many LGBTQ films. It is also one of the few films to deal with gay love in these cultures. You also most likely remember the two lead actresses, Sheetal Sheth (Leyla) and Lisa Ray (Tala) are smoking hot.
With a story like that and so many opportunities to explore sides of culture that are rarely (if ever) seen on television, Sarif and Kattan decided to put together ideas to pitch to the TV networks. Unfortunately, the response was sadly predictable. Hanan says, “We were told that the content had to change. Some wanted damaged lesbian characters who are abusive to each other emotionally (and abused) drugs, alcohol. This is not the image we wanted to explore for gay women. Some felt the Palestinian and Indian angles were too ethnic and others wanted us to change our leads and so on. We passed on each one of those suggestions, as this was not the kind of show we wanted to create or produce.”
Shamim Sarif & Hanan Kattan
Shamim adds, “All stories, whether TV, web series or movies, need drama and conflict. No question. But I also believe there is a tremendous demand out there, particularly in the lesbian community, for good role models. For strong female protagonists who face life and live on their own terms, no matter what. The ongoing reaction to I Can’t Think Straight proved that to us, and those are the kind of stories we’ve always wanted to tell — and watch! It’s not about everybody being perfect, but it is about having a sense that you can be honest and real and open and make a mark in the world. It’s about integrity and hope. And because the story is loosely based on our own real-life relationship, viewers have felt even more strongly that anything you dream about and desire is possible, or we wouldn’t have the capacity to desire it.”
Thankfully, just like my favorite Weight Watchers commercial featuring J-Hud says, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day and I’m feelin’ good!” Shamim and Hanan are committed to telling the story the way it was meant to be told and not lose the quality of what they bring to eager audiences. So, starting today, the filmmakers are launching a crowd-sourcing fundraising campaign to raise funds for an upcoming web series based on the original film. Hanan says, “As web series are becoming more popular in North America and after many chats with Sheetal — and taking some time to convince Shamim — we decided to go ahead and explore this digital format for our show. What we liked about it is the creative control and freedom it would give us to create the show that we wanted to make versus the show that the networks want to see based on a formula.”
It should be very interesting to see how this unfolds particularly because a series allows for further character development of other characters and their stories being explored as sub-plots. “This was another aspect I loved about the idea of an episodic series,” Shamim says, “that we could explore the relationship between Tala and Leyla on a longer arc, but also that we could develop the family dynamics. Their sisters were fun characters in the movie, and could have interesting parallel lives in the show, for instance. Because we want the show to stand on its own, I feel it’s important to run the love story from the start, though we will follow it much further down the road than the movie allowed. As for side characters — I am planning to write a role for Leonie Casanova, the very talented singer-songwriter who contributed some memorable songs to the movie soundtrack and who appeared as an actress in The World Unseen. It would be great to have her recur as part of Tala and Leyla’s circle and maybe even play some music onscreen.”
Sheetal is very excited about reprising the role of Leyla and says, “I loved Leyla from the moment I read the original (script). I thought she had a remarkable strength in the midst of whatever struggle she was going through. There is also something very special about her vulnerability and honesty. I am excited to explore and get to know who she is further as she navigates through whatever comes her way!” When asked about the upcoming storylines she adds, “I don’t want to give too much away but Shamim is an amazing storyteller and I can tell you that the bits I have read already have me very excited. I was intrigued at all of the new layers she is finding and exploring. One of the beauties in doing a series is that we can really develop stories further and there is a lot more room for all kinds of hijinx and drama to unravel!”
In order to get these stories and characters to the very computer screen you are staring at right this second, it’s going to take some help — and that comes in many forms. Hanan explains, “What has been amazing is that truly exceptional women who are fans of our work and from all over the world, have already offered to help us make the web series a reality by helping us with a variety of things including the general strategy, marketing, the design and creation of the new web site and all sorts of wonderful suggestions and offers. The good will and support of fans has been phenomenal and humbling and we are truly touched by their support. It is an amazing example of how women can work with other women to empower each other to make things happen.
“To help make the fundraising a success,” she continues, “we have created ‘Enlightenment Ambassador’ roles for fans who kindly offered to take on a more active role in their local communities to raise awareness about the ICTS web series and the fundraising in a more co-coordinated effort, which will be crucial for us in such a grass roots campaign. We are planning to start the fundraising directly from the new I Can’t Think Straight web site and we will go live on the 11th of November: 11-11-11. We are truly appreciative of everyone’s support.”
Sheetal tells us, “We would love any and all types of support. Obviously, we need financial sponsors and that can be in any amount. No matter how small, it all helps. If people have corporate insider access, they can also reach out to them for sponsorship funding as well as brand marketing opportunities. Spreading the word and talking about it to every person you know on Facebook, Twitter, message boards — they can also help all of us stay connected as all of this progresses.”
Just as important as helping to raise money and spread the word about the project, she adds, “When the series comes out, only supporting the legal options to buy is imperative. The illegal downloading kills us, especially on small projects like this where every dollar counts. When you think about it, the money we all spend on little things like coffee or a drink one night would mean wonders in supporting filmmakers like us. We want everyone to know that it all matters and yes, you all make a difference with every choice that is made consumer, and otherwise.
Watch below as Shamim and Hanan explain their vision and invite you to participate:
What do you think about the prospect of an ICTS series? Would you tune in?