Instagram can be a stressful place these days. I’ve seen bigotry, banana bread, blackface and that special sort of influencer that uses a global pandemic to continue promoting products none of us need. But a few weeks ago, I happened upon a gem – @powderkegtv’s latest digital production East of La Brea. The show opens with a young Black Muslim woman, visibly getting stressed that she’s trying to do her prayers in a mosque but her phone keeps blasting trap music. Aisha (Geffri Maya) leaves the mosque to join her friend Farah (Kausar Mohammed), a  Bangladeshi-American who is all over the place, but is also her flat mate. Before she leaves, however, Aisha is stopped by an older auntie who assumes that she’s a convert to Islam in need of lessons on how to perform salaah.

Each episode of East of La Brea is only 10 minutes but in this show about a 20-something Black Muslim woman living in LA, the first episode alone rolls its eyes at hipsters, touches on catcalling and DACA kids, and pokes fun at Lena Dunham. This show is all types of relatable and it’s also hilarious.

Released via Paul Feig’s production company’s IGTV at an episode a day, the format is as original as its plot that takes “place in Koreatown, Little Bangladesh, and South LA in the dead heat of summer, East of La Brea highlights the vibrant stories of different communities where folks are broke, rent is high, and it’s less of a melting pot than people just melting”.

East of La Brea is a product of Break The Room, a project pioneered by Sameer Gardezi and brings writers who are often new to the industry or from underrepresented communities and together, they create episodic television. The project began in 2017 when Margari Aziza Hill, the cofounder and executive director of the Muslim Anti-Racist Collaborative sought to utilize the effective strategy of storytelling and reached out to Gardezi, a veteran writer who has written for shows like Modern Family. Their goal was to produce a story that presented the complex lives of young Muslim American women living in East Los Angeles. Instead of going the traditional route of of finding writers via talent agencies, Gardezi put out a call on Twitter. Inundated with responses, they eventually selected Halima Lucas, Thandisizwe Chimurenga, Nia Malika Dixon and Tanha Dil. Speaking to Pop Culture Collab, who also gave Break The Room a grant, Gardezi said “We created an intentional space where people could be creative. Usually there’s only one person of color or one woman, and the effects of that are that you feel like an insurance policy, you like a spokesperson for your community, you don’t get to embrace your creativity.”

It is precisely this energy that makes the show appealing. On the last day of filming back in 2018, Gardezi said “I really feel like when people watch this it’s going to feel like [it is] an LA story. Being Muslim is part of them, we don’t ignore that but at the same time their problems aren’t necessarily faith based; they are based on other aspects that I feel are more relevant to what it means to lead an American life.”

It seems, however, that East of La Brea is reaching beyond the United States in the same way that Ramy Youssef’s Ramy has, but the two shows are remarkably different. It’s lazy to categorize East of La Brea as Ramy-from-a-female-perspective and it’s even worse to write it off as a tokenistic show used to challenge Hollywood’s stereotypical depictions of Muslims. It simply is fantastic storytelling. The clever writing, superb acting and accessibility via IGTV make this digital series a must-see. And while viewers are longing for a full season of 20 minutes per episode to be made, they will also be reminded of just how important it is to develop art that is authentic to lived experience in all it’s multiplicities and complexities. When I reached out to Gardezi and asked if viewers could expect future episodes, he said “No more episodes [are] planned for the moment. The idea was to use a community oriented method as proof that our stories could be told for the mainstream.”

You can watch ‘East of La Brea’ here