We appreciate power
‘The three girls have arrived’. That’s what Amina Hatim of Grensoverschrijvend Collectief often hears when she and her colleagues present themselves to production companies. The scriptwriting collective is all-female, its slogan reads ‘scenarists with boobs’. The word ‘balls’ is explicitly crossed out, a good-humored kick in the balls of sexism and sexist language. Though now the three are writing a television series with Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah for VRT, their path hasn’t always been smooth. Organizations like Artists United helped them to find a way through a bureaucratic and unpredictable freelance art world.
Hi Amina, what are you working on at the moment?
Most of my time is dedicated to the collective. We work together four days a week. Our current biggest project is a television series, called Chicago, we’re writing for Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. We’re also working on a film for Michaël Roskam. Next to that we’re doing smaller projects to be able to make ends meet. Commercials or web series, for instance.
Your projects are often tackling stereotypical representation, about dementia in Tussen Nu en Morgen for instance, and about neighborhoods with a bad reputation in Antwerp in Chicago.
Whether we’re writing for individual or collective projects, we want to create a truthful representation of society. Television should portray diversity in terms of gender, race, age, etc. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen enough.
What was missing on television when you were watching as a kid?
Cultural diversity. I grew up with both a Moroccan and Belgian background. Television is so white and so Flemish, while the reality in Belgium isn’t like that anymore. There are so many people like me, people who are only able to identify with very few characters on television. That’s a pity.
There are so many people like me, people who are only able to identify with very few characters on television
One of your first projects was a web series for children, Chicago will be about teenagers. Do you specifically want to target a younger audience?
It rather happened by accident: I wrote the web series for a client. Chicago was really our own idea. The initial story was set in Brussels, the characters were millennials and twentysomethings. When we contacted the management of Adil and Bilall, they said that they had a similar project running. It was set in Antwerp and had slightly younger characters. We decided to blend the two together.
In order to represent reality in an authentic way, you’ll need research. How are you dealing with that?
We’re still doing research for Chicago. We are very often at Linkeroever, where the series is set. We dig into the history of the neighborhood and conduct interviews, but we also just go there and observe.
A much-quoted slogan of minorities - the disability movement for instance - is ‘nothing about us without us’. Can we tell stories about diversity without involving the people?
I’ve always considered it a difficult debate. Obviously, the story will be so much better if one of the writers has an affinity with the subject. Even when it’s just via family or friends. On the other hand, a good writer should be able to do research and make connections with people from scratch.
Diversity is an inherent part of Grensoverschrijvend Collectief as it clearly presents itself as a female collective. When did you decide to work together?
All three of us studied scriptwriting at RITCS. When we were doing our bachelor together, we weren’t that close yet. After the bachelor, I studied film studies and visual culture in Antwerp while Nele and Una went straight on to the master. When I came back to RITCS to finish my master in scriptwriting, Nele had an idea for a television series and was looking for other writers. We were really on the same page, so we started working together. It was one hell of a year as Nele and Una were working full time jobs and I was still studying. We started pitching our idea to production companies and in 2018 we decided to dedicate ourselves to the collective full time. The series eventually lead to Chicago.
Do you ever feel like you’re taken less seriously in the film industry, only because you’re a woman?
Absolutely! When we go on a meeting and announce ourselves at the reception, they would often call to tell that ‘the three girls’ have arrived. I hate it when they call us that.
When we go on a meeting and announce ourselves at the reception, they would often call to tell that ‘the three girls’ have arrived
How does the collective work? Do you divide the writing?
It depends on the project. We usually brainstorm together. Once the story beats and our characters are set, we start working on our own. One writes the first episode, someone else develops the characters etc. We all read and feedback each other’s work.
How do you remember your time at RITCS?
It was a very chaotic period. I had studied Latin science in high school and the switch to an art school (RITCS) was very confronting. Not only did I feel like I had to catch up on movies and audiovisual culture as a whole, but I also learned a lot about myself. I struggled for a long time with what I wanted to write about and why. Between my bachelor and script writing master I studied a year at the University of Antwerp, where I followed the master film studies and visual culture. That year gave me the time to realize I wanted to write scripts, primarily for television, and focus on diversity.
How did you manage to find your way as an artist in the beginning?
It was very stressful. We started the collective without having any financial security. We might just as well have to stop after a year. We were taking a risk, but it felt safer as we were jumping together. It took a while until we all had an income. It’s going okay now, though!
We started the collective without having any financial security. We might just as well have to stop after a year
Were you taken aback by the financial and bureaucratic side of being an artist when you graduated?
I always worked as an interim after I graduated. So I didn’t experience the struggle that comes with freelancing. Yet I was working towards obtaining the artist statute, which was quite stressful. When we started the collective, I was afraid of months without any assignments. One month later we’d get five proposals. It was very unpredictable.
You’re a client of Artists United and Paypro Services. What do they mean to you?
When I was working towards the artist statute, I received different information from everyone. From teachers, from the Kunstenloket and from other artists. Everyone was telling a different story. At Artists United we finally found people who knew all about it. People who knew all the rules and exactly what we had to do. It was a relief to be able to count on them.
What advice would you give other young artists?
If you’re sure, go for it. Lots of people take half time jobs to write on the side, but usually in the end they don’t write anymore. Allow yourself the time to grow and to create.
If you’re sure, go for it