Thirteen years after the premiere of the L Word—the Showtime series that gave voice to a generation of lesbians that hadn't yet been depicted onscreen—the world around us has changed. There are far more queer and trans representations in pop culture, momentous precedents for LGBT rights, and open conversations about sexuality and gender. And yet, depictions of lesbian culture are still squeezed in the margins of popular television.
195 Lewis, a new web series premiering Thursday November 16, not only tackles the intricacies of LGBTQ culture but also offers an intimate look at the queer black community in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn. Creators Rae Leone Allen and Yaani Supreme—both queer black women who lived in Brooklyn—carve out a space dense with complex LGBTQ women of color, and invite the audience to "feel like they're at the party," director Chanelle Aponte Pearson told Broadly. And from the show's very first episode, 195 Lewis does just that.
Watch the pilot of 195 Lewis exclusively on Broadly:
The series opens with a house party, featuring polarized lighting that sets a cinematic feel and music that moves like it's a character itself. Like any good party, dramas abound and we're quickly introduced to the main characters—a cast of queer black women including Allen—and learn their quirks and dispositions. Allen, as warm and charming in person as she is onscreen, told Broadly that she and her co-creator "love our community and we wanted to see that depicted." It's no surprise that Allen and Supreme pulled these characters from their own friendships and selves: they feel nuanced and complex—real.
"We’ve been able to create this warm and embracing world. We want people to join and feel safe there," Allen said.
While there are many topics a show like 195 Lewis could tackle—there is no dearth of conflict that queer, black women face in today's political climate and the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Bed-Stuy—the creators chose to focus on black women loving other black women. This topic is rarely, if ever, portrayed onscreen, and the tangled web of relationships the women of 195 Lewis find themselves in is equal parts fascinating and relatable.
But making this show wasn't easy—largely bootstrapped, 195 Lewis was three years in the making. "At first, no one got what we were trying to do," Allen explained, admitting that she felt the "impostor syndrome" that many women, especially women of color, can relate to. But during their first table reading when the words came to life, Allen said, it felt clear that they were on to something special that would require the effort and dedication of everyone involved.
As more women are stepping forward to unmask abusers in various industries, Allen says it's clear that we need this kind of tenacity from traditionally marginalized voices more than ever. "The only thing we need to take from white men is their audacity," Allen explained with a slight laugh while remaining completely serious. "Women are different kind of creatures, we’re constantly asking questions and interrogating ourselves, we know we’ll be responsible with our art. We just need to get audacious."
The show does not shy away from tough topics. In the vein of other popular dramedies, 195 Lewis pulls the heartstrings, makes you think, and still manages to get a laugh at the same time. While 195 intentionally tackles complex subjects like polyamory, sex positivity, and misogyny in lesbian culture, it's not in the way you might expect. The cast of characters allows for conflicting perspectives—even in this very specific world—so viewers are invited into a real conversation instead of a lecture.
In one of the many great scenes of the series, a woman breaks down "the five types of lesbians" to her friend—which any queer women will agree is spot-on—but when asked which one she is, she replies without missing a beat: "I'm nameless and formless. I'm badder than Bette." When someone asks, "Who's Bette?" everyone in the room stops and we're cut to a shot of Bette, the bi-racial affluent Ivy-leaguer from the L Word, in an unexpected homage that is as touching as it is hilarious.
Like other shows paving the way for new voices—like Chewing Gum, Insecure, Transparent, and One Mississippi, to name a few—195 Lewis proves this is just the beginning. It's a mystery why networks are clamoring for reboots of shows, even those as beloved as the L Word, when there are so many more stories to tell. "We’re showing beautiful black women on screen loving each other and being themselves. That’s revelatory in and of itself," Allen explained.