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'I was determined to cast a dark-skinned girl in lead'

ONLINE HIT: Shakira Scott

“WRITING IS like breathing to me,” explains Shakira Scott, popularly known in the online world as ‘Scotty Unfamous’, the creator of web series Unfamous.

The spirited south Londoner's steady rise can be attributed to her commendable work ethic.

Her on-screen personality is the straight-talking agony aunt of online channel, Swear Down TV, but behind the scenes she is the architect of one of YouTube's more controversial series, which tackles domestic violence, homosexuality and race.

“I've been writing since I was little and as I got older it's just one of those things I never really stopped doing. The thing that actually made me go for it full-time was when I started writing my story [Unfamous] on Facebook in 2011 and it became super popular, which was awesome,” she recalls.

Following the overwhelming response, the then novice writer made the brave decision to quit her job working at a call centre to pursue a full-time career in writing and hasn't looked back.

The compelling coming-of-age story, which began life as a novel, first caught the attention of a drama company and became an instant on-stage success. It has also gone on to become a featured novel on Wattpad, an award-winning e-reader platform, which has over 35 million unique visitors per month. Unfamous has, so far, received over 600,000 online reads on the popular community website.

“It was the first stage production in history to sell out the Lost Theatre [in south London] and after an impact like that I just thought, 'what's the next step'?”

The next step for Scott would turn out to be adapting her winning script for TV and bringing the characters to life in the form of a web series, hosted on YouTube.

Scott said the prospect of walking into new territory was a scary one.

“I wasn't really sure because it was new territory,” she explains. “No one had done it yet and then we finally decided to go into it, we started seeing [popular web series] Brothers With No Game and Venus Vs Mars and I felt like we were on the right track.”

So what does it mean to be ‘Unfamous’?

As the opening of the first episode explains: “There's a level of bait where you know a lot of people and a lot of people want to know you”

When casting the lead role, Scott said it was important to cast a dark-skinned actress “because that was how I made her in the book.”

She said: “It was really important to me that Rio was a dark-skinned girl. At one point I was working with a different producer who advised me to cast a light-skinned girl instead.”

Scott said the producer told her that casting a fairer-skinned actress in the role of Rio would ensure the success of the series, but Scott wasn’t swayed.

Sticking to her conviction, the self-aware visionary severed ties with the producer and went on to cast newcomer Busayo Ige in the lead role.

“Busayo is gorgeous. When I saw her, I was like, 'Yeah, she's the one!' She played Rio so well and it was more gratifying that the series did so well and proved the original producer wrong.”

In addition to dealing with the reinvention of the main character, the series is also charged with highlighting domestic violence, a storyline the 26-year-old took from her own personal experience.

At the age of 20, her time at university was marred by a violent relationship, and that has gone on to form the foundation for one of the series' most gripping couples, the docile Yoshi and her abusive boyfriend Ace.

“I wrote a spin-off book just focusing on their relationship titled All That Glitters. The book forms a bridge between the second and third instalment of the series, which currently has more than half a million views to date.

On her own personal battle, the young writer's openness comes through with the same refreshing energy she brings to the screen.

She recalls: “It wasn't a sudden change, he would push bit by bit almost to see what he could get away with.”

After her candid admission, she takes a few moments to compose herself, before detailing her tumultuous relationship with her ex.

“We would argue a lot to the point that we got into a routine. We'd be all right for a bit then start fighting over something stupid and then he'd go off. He would call me the worst names.”

Watching her real life experience translated on screen came with a degree of difficulty, with Scott saying she would often become tearful during scenes between Yoshi and Ace.

After walking away from the “dead-end” relationship, the talented writer sunk into a state of depression, only managing to reprise herself through her craft and the launch of Swear Down TV.

Undeterred by her past struggle, the “big romantic” gushed: “I wanted to look at love from different perspectives. I'm open minded and believe that you love who you love.”

In addition to identifying the taboo issue of homosexuality in the black community, Scott emphasised her desire for the show to be progressive and representative.

The lesbian relationship between spirited and openly bisexual Fontaine and the closeted Nadia offers viewers an insight into a struggle with identity and sexuality.

“There are some people who hide who they are because they're scared of others judging them so that's what I wanted to portray with Nadia. She takes out her anger on Fontaine when the real issue is about not being able to properly deal with who she is.”

Moving forward, the award-winning writer aspires to be a best-selling author and to continue to create good content inspired by powerhouse writers Shonda Rhimes (Scandal) and Lena Dunham (Girls).

“I want to be a half-way point between Shonda Rhimes and Lena Dunham,” she says. “I want to raise the standard of UK television to share young peoples stories. I don't want people to look at it and think it’s a black thing, I want them to see young peoples stories that anyone can relate to that is well executed and is entertaining,” she said.

With a third book on the way and series two of Unfamous in the works, Scott assures her fans will be more than satisfied with all she has to offer in the new year always keeping them in mind.

“I think it's important for any creative that is going it alone to acknowledge that you always have to stay humble, grounded and connected to the people that took you there and are going to carry you to the next level.”

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