Vanessa Flores and Samiat Salami, writers and filmmakers behind the new web series 'Uneasy.' Jannah Manansala
Vanessa Flores and Samiat Salami, writers and filmmakers behind the new web series 'Uneasy.' (Jannah Manansala)

Gentrification and Cultural Tension in Oakland Web Series 'Uneasy'

Gentrification and Cultural Tension in Oakland Web Series 'Uneasy'

What's it like to be a first-generation college graduate surviving in a rapidly gentrifying Oakland, all while trying to navigate job-hunting, foster friendships and deal with the daily struggle of trying to stay put in The Town?

With the new web series Uneasy, local writers and filmmakers Samiat Salami and Vanessa Flores tackle this very question—with an added cultural layer. Salami is Nigerian-American, and Flores is Guatemalan-Mexican-American.

“With this series, we wanted to showcase what it's like to come from post-military Nigeria, and also what is like to be Latinx and not speak Spanish, and how it affects your culture,” Salami tells me during a recent chat at a local coffee shop in downtown Oakland.

Some might see in Uneasy a correlation to Insecure, but unlike Issa Rae on her hit HBO show, don't expect Ade (Samiat Salami), and Cat (Vanessa Flores) to be preoccupied with their love lives. The roommates’ biggest worries are housing, finances, and interpersonal discovery. (A closer comparison might be The North Pole, the 2017 web series that tackled gentrification; both series are written and directed by people of color, and both are shot in familiar settings throughout Oakland.)

Vanessa Flores and Samiat Salami, writers and filmmakers behind the new web series 'Uneasy.'
Vanessa Flores and Samiat Salami, writers and filmmakers behind the new web series 'Uneasy.' (Jannah Manansala)

Uneasy's two main characters are roommates. Ade is struggling to stay in the apartment with Cat; a recent graduate, she has yet to find a job, and can’t afford to pay rent. She wrestles with her friendship with Cat, and how to develop friendships with other women, and black women specifically—a conflict that Salami says came from real life.

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“Grad school is very white," Salami explains. After moving the the U.S. from Nigeria, going to school in Florida, and losing part of her identity while attending grad school, "I realized when I graduated that I had no black friends... I would go to the lake, and I would see all these women having a good time, and it felt like something I didn’t get an invitation to.”

Meanwhile, Flores had felt “white-washed” because she doesn’t speak Spanish fluently. “It’s rejecting certain things to fit in,” she says.

Salami and Flores are not roommates in real life. Salami is married and resides in Oakland, and Flores, priced out of Oakland, recently moved to the Sunset in San Francisco. But “getting to know each other [in real life] definitely shaped the show,” Flores says.

Also, both Salami and Flores utilized certain situations from their time in grad school for the show. “In academia, especially in a writer’s workshop, you talk about your identity 24-7,” Salami says. For Flores, her early writing was defined by who was teaching her. “I was writing very white male fiction, and anything else that I was trying to write was nonsensical,” Flores says. “I had to assimilate my writing, and I did it, and I was pretty successful writing like a white man.”

In Uneasy, Ade and Cat are up against being perceived as gentrifiers themselves, even though they both struggle financially. “Cat and Ade are each other’s people, but they will never fully know what it is like to be the other,” Salami explains. “This comes from a very real place.”

For those who noticed the Bay Area soundtrack anchoring the movies Blindspotting and Sorry To Bother You, Uneasy will give a similar vibe. The episodes include music from local artists like Trey Coastal, Mlodic, Honey Gold Jasmine, Qing Qi, Caleborate, and others.

For their second season, Salami and Flores aim to find more local women musicians, a challenge they encountered this time around. “When people watch the show, I want it to partner well with the music,” Salami explains.

Once Salami and Flores had their writing in motion, the first five episodes were entirely self-funded, with both Salami and Flores taking extra freelance work and maxing out their own credit cards. The remaining episodes (there are 8 total, roughly 10 minutes each) were funded by $10,000 in donations from a Seed & Spark campaign.

“For Season Two we want make this bigger, involve more writers, have an actual writer’s room,” Flores says. “I would love for the show to stay grounded in Oakland and the experiences of living here,” Salami says. “Women of color have earned the right to be on television, and have our stories not be perfect.”

'Uneasy' premieres in part on Sunday, Feb. 17, at the New Parkway in Oakland; details here. It premieres in full on YouTube in March.

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