In an attempt to watch more inclusive media, I eventually realized that TV was probably not going to be the best place to find interesting stories about diverse and well-realized characters. So I’ve been working my way through (my brother’s) Netflix and Amazon accounts for some better entertainment. However, there’s another source of online media that doesn’t involve being Parasite #4 on my brother’s internet, and that’s YouTube. Today’s web crush, Shugs & Fats, is one of those great YouTube webseries.
Shugs & Fats is about Shagufta and Fatima, two Muslim women who have immigrated to Brooklyn and are starting to settle in to American life. The show offers brief two to three minute snapshots of them exercising, enjoying junk food, starting book clubs, and failing at these endeavors in strange but entertaining ways. Through these short episodes, creators Radhika Vaz and Nadia Manzoor show that Muslim women honestly just have the same problems as any women, and in so doing, they normalize seeing Muslim hijabi women on screen.
Vaz and Manzoor met while doing improv in New York City and quickly realized that they worked well together. Creating the show came about quite naturally as the two women were struck again and again by the lack of any real roles for women of color (and particularly for Muslim women who wear the hijab). As Vaz says in an interview with Indiewire:
A lot of the time, I would get auditions for “wife of suspected terrorist who doesn’t speak English and cries all of the time.” And that was basically it. And “mother of suspected terrorist who cries all of the time and doesn’t speak English.” It wasn’t exactly that, but it was that. And the thing for me wasn’t so much about the terrorism thing, but why are they making the women so one-note? How come the guys have all of the lines in the thing? So I wrote this monologue about this woman who is the wife of a suspected terrorist, but she’s not really quiet and crying all of the time. She’s angry at him, and she’s just a regular wife. She’s bored with him and thinks he’s silly and doesn’t like his sense. It was sort of that thing.
Not only do Vaz and Manzoor discuss problems women may have and problems that people in Brooklyn might have, they also take an incisive look at problems within the Muslim community. In one of my favorite clips, Fats, the older of the two, takes Shugs to a speed dating event to try and get her married. Shugs is really taken by a Black man, Ralph, who is a professor who seems genuinely interested in Shugs’s culture and wants to get to know her. Fats, however, angers both of them with her racism and clear anti-Black prejudices, saying that Ralph is “scary” and insisting that Shugs marry a schlubby white guy who calls himself a “carpet doctor” (he’s a doctor, Shugs!). There’s inherent humor in going to a speed dating event and thinking that you’ll leave married, but on top of that, Fats’s stupidly traditionalist, outdated beliefs really reminded me of experiences I’ve had with my own East Asian family and with other older East Asian women as well.