The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else is a fantastic new web-series following the journey of a feminist lesbian political journalist who goes undercover as a Cosmo-sipping, shoe-mongering, glitter-wearing straight girl. This alternative narrative was recently featured on NPR’s “Tell Me More,” and has received much attention and acclaim. GO spoke with Carmen Elena Mitchell (writer/creator/Executive Producer/Angie), Reena Dutt (Co-producer/Sydney), and Jennifer Weaver (Co-producer/Liz).
Where did the concept for The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else come from? Was it slowly developed or born in a moment of inspiration?
Mitchell: Yes and yes! It came out of a lifetime of being bombarded by books, TV shows and films that seemed to conclude that being female is inextricably linked to an innate obsession with overpriced footwear and man-stalking. However, the idea really crystallized when Reena, our friend Vivian and I went to see the Sex And The City movie. We got into this conversation about the chick-lit/chick-flick genre and how it really didn’t represent the experiences of women of color, or lesbians, or smart creative women who had to struggle financially and who had other goals in life besides finding that elusive “Mr. Right” (or that even more elusive pair of Jimmy Choos). At some point I said, “Well, someone should write a series for the rest of us,” and Reena said, “You should write it, Carmen!”
Dutt: When we read the script for the first time, my jaw dropped a few inches. I loved it. This script represented all the women (diverse AND white as milk) I want to be friends with in one series!
Weaver: Also, it was born out of a genuine look at who is not represented as a woman today. We thought Sex and the City had its merits and appreciated it taking television to an area it just hasn’t been for women, but there was something missing. Most of Carmen’s real life friends are the antithesis of those found in mainstream media, so she had plenty of inspiration.
The Real Girl’s Guide addresses cultural issues, sexuality, and ethnicity with refreshingly real characters, yet doesn’t take itself too seriously. Did you aim to increase visibility on any one prominent issue?
Weaver: It’s funny that sometimes “real life” people with “real life” issues somehow don’t fit the formula television uses. Real Girl’s allowed us to show various types of real women to tell a simple story; a woman wants to go after her dream. What can she do to get there?
Mitchell: I wrote the script during the summer of 2008, right before the presidential election, so I was reacting to 8 years of “the politics of the absurd.” I was thinking about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and how American imperialism had been spun in both cases as part of a humanitarian mission. I kept thinking about how when we went into Afghanistan there was a lot made of how we were “freeing the Afghan women from their burqas,” meanwhile we’re bombing the hell out of them and furthering the conditions that cause authoritarian rule (not to mention the fact that we helped arm the Taliban in the first place). At the same time, Prop 8 was very much on my mind. I knew a lot of couples in California who were debating about whether or not to get married before the election, and I wanted to look at how politics can intersect in people’s lives in a very personal way.
Dutt: For me, I was becoming increasingly frustrated with auditioning for roles that stereotyped diversity; walking into a casting office and seeing “with an accent” written next to the role I’m auditioning for. I wanted to play a “normal” character – not someone who is dealing with immigrant issues just because of the color of my skin. As a producer, I wanted to set an example of normalized diversity, where ethnicity is far less of an issue than the person’s struggle, aspirations and achievements.
Why approach these issues through the experience of a Lebanese lesbian?
Mitchell: I thought it would be interesting to throw someone into the mix that was dealing with dual identity issues because that’s something we rarely see on TV, but that is very real in our pluralistic culture. Rasha is Lebanese-American, but to some Americans she’s seen as exclusively Middle-Eastern and therefore exotic. Then she goes to Afghanistan where she’s seen as a crass American…on top of all this, she’s gay and navigating an almost surrealistically straight world. I think what I wanted to address is that identity is a product of context, often forced upon us by political realities.
Weaver: I thought Carmen’s invention of that character was brilliant. You hear "… about a Lebanese lesbian" and you immediately understand that what will follow will be humorous and intriguing.
The series hilariously perpetuates some stereotypes while breaking others – of lesbians, straight girls, even WASPy Republican men! What do you hope viewers take away from watching this?
Dutt: As an actress of color, I love when the character I’m auditioning for can be anyone, anywhere. The story becomes universal. So much ignorance about diversity stems from not looking at a person as someone who is undergoing a universal experience. I really hope viewers see this as a show about real girls that are living lives, and have a blast doing it in their own zany way!
Weaver: It takes all kinds. Stereotypes exist but the opposite does also. It’s important to remember that. Especially if you ever feel you are not understood.
Mitchell: I just find all people equally hilarious and fallible. I’ve actually gotten some very enthusiastic feedback from Republican viewers (which I wasn’t expecting, but am thrilled about…because it means they’re listening)! I hope that by engaging in equal-opportunity-mocking we can all take ourselves a bit less seriously and start having a productive dialogue about these issues.
You guys have received fantastic reviews. Robin Daléa won the Outstanding Achievement Award for a Lead Actress at the L.A. Web Fest for her portrayal of “Rasha,” and The Real Girl’s Guide competed in “The Battle of the Lesbian Web Series” at The Dinah this year. Clearly, we want more – what’s next for the F-Word Division of Off-Chance Productions?
Dutt: Off-Chance is up to no good. We’re currently producing a show called Shaheed The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto (Anna Khaja’s one-woman show; she played Aliyah in Season 1) that opens this month (May 2010). Aside from that, we’ve got a feature coming up, and our co-founder Luis Reyes is developing a short and a play of his own called The Limitations of Genetic Technology.
Weaver: Well, of course there’s a Season II of the Real Girl’s as well! Great stuff with the zany characters mixed with real world issues and a heaping dose of humor. There’s also the female-driven film Reena mentioned on the horizon which isn’t like Real Girl’s, but just as interesting and shows how Off-Chance has quite a big bag of tricks.
Mitchell: Real Girls Forever! Right now we’re gearing up to shoot another 10 episode season and actively looking for sponsors, donors and contributions from viewers. I don’t want to give away too much, except that there will be live animals, Barbies and a rock-n-roll Jesus!
To watch the first season of The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else go to: www.therealgirlsguide.com.