“I’m a feminist, I’m political, and so is this magazine,” Kat Edison, Scarlet magazine’s social media director, says to Adena El-Amin, the lesbian Muslim photographer she courts for a feature spread in the Cosmopolitan-esque publication in the pilot for the addicting new series The Bold Type. The two discuss politics and cultural mores as they peer through a window into the conference room where several of Scarlet’s female employees pore over the latest vibrator samples that have been sent to the office for coverage. Kat explains that Scarlet editor in chief Jacqueline, a whip-smart fashionista boss with a heart of gold based on Cosmo’s Joanna Coles, who is an executive producer on the series, subscribes to the theory of what she calls “stealth feminism," but The Bold Type is not the least bit stealthy. It wears its feminism and its intersectionality — Kat is a biracial woman who is about to explore her sexuality with Adena, a lesbian Muslim from Iran — on its statement-making sleeve, and it does it with humor, heart, and political prescience.
“I think it’s really beautiful to see this new wave of feminism we’re seeing, where to be a feminist you don’t have fit into a certain box. You can be a woman of color, you can identify as any sexuality you want, and no one can tell you that it’s wrong or that the Western idealized version of feminism is the only version of feminism,” Aisha Dee (Chasing Life, Sweet Vicious), who plays Kat, told The Advocate in a phone interview. “I think everyone has their own interpretation of it, and we’re seeing the rise of intersectionality. I think it’s really beautiful, and I hope the show really does that justice.”
While the Kat and Adena love story promises early on to become one of the show’s epic romances, the series, from creator Sarah Watson (a writer on Parenthood who co-created the series Pure Genius), centers on the friendships of three young women pursuing careers and love in New York City. Comparisons to that other little show about women in impossible heels navigating romance and, well, sex, in the Big Apple are inevitable. The central romance of Sex and the City, was, after all, the love that Carrie, Samantha, Miranda, and Charlotte had for one another, and in that sense, The Bold Type follows suit. Kat’s besties at Scarlet are Jane (Faking It’s Katie Stevens), a newly minted journalist at the magazine whose stories swing from political exposés to a personal essay about how she’s never had an orgasm, and Sutton (Meghann Fahy), the beleaguered assistant with a killer business degree who aspires to work in fashion.
“I think we are definitely trying to really represent not only girls living in New York and finding themselves and their love lives and all of that, but also careers as well, because like any modern woman, the career is just as important,” Dee said of the show’s lead characters. “I love seeing these girls navigate all of that all at once. I think that is what is so groundbreaking about it. They support each other too. There is no backstabbing.”
But where Sex and the City and even recent shows that featured women’s bonds as the central theme including Big Little Lies, Glow, and Pretty Little Liars (which aired on The Bold Type's network, Freeform), were all suspended in time in their own worlds, The Bold Type is deeply political and of the moment in a way that a series about working in the media today couldn’t possibly avoid. Whether it’s discussing orgasms (there's nothing more feminist than owning your orgasms), Twitter trolls, or a female politician’s fashion choices, anyone working in media today would recognize that it’s all political.
The Bold Type’s pilot was shot last August, and while the presidential election loomed large and the show’s creators thought there would be a different outcome, it didn’t affect the series moving forward as much as one might think, Watson told The Advocate via phone. The character of Adena was already deep in the fabric of the series when Donald Trump laid down his Muslim ban in January.
“I want to sue the United States of America for ripping off all of our storylines,” Watson joked before addressing the very real issues at hand. “Obviously, the struggles the character [Adena] as a Muslim in this country is facing have completely evolved because we have to be true to the reality of what it's like to be a Muslim in this country right now, but she was created and conceived long before anything. It's kind of crazy.”
Watson added, “I thought we were going to be telling these stories at a time when we had our first female president, and so to have that not be the case has definitely shifted things, but just not as much as you'd think."
Beyond the urgency that Adena (played by Nikohl Boosheri, who starred in the critically acclaimed film Circumstance (2011), about Muslim girls who fall in love, is now imbued with, she’s also groundbreaking in that she’s one of the first, if not the first, lesbian Muslim character on television. But Watson said the goal when she wrote Adena and Kat was primarily to tell thoughtful stories.
“Intersectional feminism is obviously such a focal point of conversation right now. It wasn't to the same degree when I wrote the pilot,” Watson said. “I just wrote what I felt were interesting characters, and it turns out that they fit into these molds and are a part of these conversations. I wish I could take more credit and say I was intentionally trying to be groundbreaking or intentionally trying to be intersectional, but I was just writing about the experiences my friends have had — that I've had — and stories that felt exciting and important to me.”
While Watson wrote Kat, Adena, Jane, Sutton, and Jacqueline (the editor in chief, played by Transparent's Melora Hardin, who eschews the Devil Wears Prada Miranda Priestly dragon lady stereotype) prior to the world record–breaking Women’s March last January, her characters resonate as if she’d written them as archetypes for a new kind of female representation, and with just six episodes of the show having aired, fans have responded to the characters with recognition and thankfulness for that representation.
“I was really nervous, to be honest, before the premiere, because I knew the character was controversial,” Boosheri told The Advocate. “It was really important to me. I wanted her to be complicated, but I also wanted to do it right, if that makes sense. I know it was very sensitive, and you can’t make everyone happy. I feel overwhelmed by positive fan feedback so far.”
Boosheri added that fans have reached out to her about the portrayal. “I’ve had people contact me, Muslim lesbians, expressing their gratitude and expressing that they see themselves in these characters and that it’s empowered them to be brave and to be themselves,” Boosheri said. “How amazing is that?”
Adena is a new type of character for television, but Boosheri also pointed out her universality. “I think a lot of people can relate to Adena because she is 'an other,' and I think [it's important] now more than ever to have a dialogue and to talk about acceptance and to talk about self-love,” Boosheri said. “I am really grateful to be a part of such a positive and optimistic show that makes us feel we are moving in the right direction. If we just keep forging on together, that change can be made.”
Echoing Boosheri’s sentiments regarding representation, Dee said that while The Bold Type offers portrayals of people who’ve been underrepresented in the media, it’s something audiences have always craved.
“Everyone wants to see themselves reflected in TV and in the movies and the media they consume. I know, myself, growing up, I always wanted to see myself reflected and it was a rare opportunity for me to see someone who looked like me or someone who expressed themselves in the same way as me,” Dee said. “I think it’s really special for people to see themselves reflected, and people are hungry for it, but it’s not a new thing. To me, it’s been the case for a long time.”
For all of The Bold Type’s refreshing, benchmark portrayals, ie. a biracial woman exploring her identity with a proud lesbian Muslim, the series’ backbone is its depiction of women’s friendships. Throughout career ups and downs and personal strife, Kat, Jane, and Sutton support, question, and hold each other accountable. When asked flat-out if The Bold Type is a “feminist” show Watson said, “Yes. We're a feminist show. It's women supporting women. What's more feminist than that?”