Director Amira Shaunice Talks ‘Phase 6’ and Creating for the LGBTQ+ Community
By: Christina Santi
Throughout the years, LGBTQ people of color in television and film have been underrepresented and stereotyped. In 2005, the Logo series Noah’s Arc followed the love lives of four Black gay men, and is the only television show in history to do so. There were Black LGBTQ characters in other shows like Omar (The Wire), Lafayette (True Blood), Tasha (The L Word). Due to the general lack of diversity in Hollywood, one would be hard-pressed to find either a Black character or a Black LGBTQ character on mainstream television.
In recent years all that has changed. In their 2021 Where Are We on TV report, GLAAD finds that 9.1% of series regular characters scheduled to appear on broadcast scripted primetime television this season are LGBTQ.
When people think of shows that center Black LGBTQ people, Orange Is the New Black and POSE are likely to be the only ones, centering the stories of Black women. Director Amira Shaunice wants to be behind these with her Black women-led queer stories. With her latest offering Phase 6, viewers delve into the breakup phases of protagonist Jessica Williams (Peighton Bryant).
The Detroit-born director and storyteller spoke with BNC about her screenwriting journey and creating her YouTube platform New York Girls TV, which gives Black queer women the spotlight throughout various shows.
Shaunice always loved storytelling, but fell in love with “the art of filmmaking” while majoring in Television & Film at Clark Atlanta University. She decided to start NYGTV in 2014 because she wanted to tell different stories, and understood how hard that would be in an industry lacking diversity.
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There are a host of series on Shaunice’s platform that show the range of life experiences lived by Black queer women. All of her characters lead full lives and are not boxed into their LGBTQ identity. As with real life, their queerness is just one aspect of who they are. One can see how Shaunice was influenced by Spike Lee, who has always made sure to present the complexity and nuance in the everyday life of his Black characters.
In Phase 6, a spin-off of New York Girls, Shaunice does a stellar job of humanizing Jessica’s story without stereotyping her sexuality. Jessica deals with heartache, friendzoning and family drama the same as any other twentysomething living in New York City.
“My primary audience is the LGBTQ community, but I think it’s so important to tell stories that everyone can share,” Shaunice said. “Even though I cater to the LGBTQ market, I think people take from the fact that we’re all human and we all really go through those same dynamics.”
Unfortunately, or maybe to her advantage, the filmmaker did not have many LGBTQ influences in life. Specifically during Pride month, she decided to celebrate herself and continue to put the stories of Black lesbians to the forefront.
Shaunice is hoping that in the future there will be more diverse stories in the media industry, but for now she is happy doing the work. Season 2 of Phase 6 is in the works, the previous season can be found on YouTube.