If it weren’t for Atlanta Black Pride 2007, the hit lesbian web series Lovers and Friends would have never been made. In fact, it would have been an old script collecting dust on writer/director Charmain Johnson’s desk.
The easygoing Johnson grew up with a love of writing and a desire to start making films — something she began doing while attending a media arts-centric high school and studying film in college. After school, she began working on projects that spoke closer and closer to her own experiences.
“I was doing lots of little projects, and I had just finished doing a documentary. After that, I had done a short lesbian film called Piece of Welfare. It got me into writing about the whole lesbian community, especially in those short vignettes.”
“So I decided to go ahead and write Lovers and Friends episode one — not really knowing where it was going to go, because me and my co-producer Kay [Greene] were doing a lot of different things, a lot of different projects together, and at the time, we were looking for something to go on the web — but that wasn’t it!”
The script was shelved while the pair worked on other projects (including a rough idea to do a sketch comedy-style concept). It wasn’t until her fateful trip to Atlanta that Johnson thought she had something real with her “on the side” script.
“I think that was the first time I had been a part of what I consider to be a movement,” she said. Something had clicked.
“It was just very inspiring to me, it was my first time in Atlanta, my first time at a pride event, really. I had been to a couple of others, but nothing like that! That made me feel like ‘Ok, there’s a market and there’s support in the lesbian community. There’s an audience waiting to be brought into — waiting to be entertained’.”
And after that? “When we got back, we just kind of hit the ground running — and here we are now!”
The series’ adoring fans have a lot to be happy about — it’s one of the most inclusive, realistic, and downright funniest shows on the digital tube. The characters come from a wide range of backgrounds and represent folks from all over the class, race, gender identity and sexuality spectrums, without ever giving the impression that there’s a “token” present.
“Really, the way the characters came about was just me deciding to sit down and write! I wanted to write something that was based on lesbians — especially women of color.”
“I kind of patterned Kai after myself… except for the whole personal trainer part!” She laughed. “Other than that, I started with Kai, and Kai was kind of like the heroine. I said, ‘Ok, I’m going to go in the opposite direction, and I’m going to write Dre, and write her as the villain. Lisa is the damsel in distress.’ That’s really how everything started.”
Johnson admitted she was a “religious” fan of The L Word, despite its faults and race and gender representation gaps.
“I saw them bring Tasha in,” she said, reminiscing on the early days of writing her own show. “For me, I saw what they were trying to do, but I also wanted to take it and flip it.” She said. “I wanted to take the cast, but instead of Tasha being the minority, for instance, Christina is the minority in our cast. It’s not like I wanted it to be an all-black cast, or an all-ethnic cast. I just wanted the women of color — the women from an ethnic background — NOT to be the minority.”