Issa Rae is bringing some good ol’ diversity to HBO; let the celebration begin
‘Insecure’ is a show about black women, and it’s about time
First there was Sex and the City. Then there was Veep. Most recently, it’s been all about Lena Dunham and her friends in Girls. HBO has long been under fire for creating shows that have no full representation of women of color. Black and brown women have to go to other places to get their fix and be a part of the conversation.
For black women, the CW/UPN show Girlfriends, starring Tracey Ellis-Ross, hit the scene. For Latina women, Lifetime brought us Devious Maids, executive produced by a team that includes actress Eva Longoria and ABC’s hit show Ugly Betty had us glued to the tube. Although shows starring predominantly white casts may not absolutely be required to feature women of color, it would still be nice to see more than one-dimensional characters represented in television, because the world is not a one-dimensional place. Who didn’t relate to the ladies of Sex and The City? But it’s sad that in 2016, the world is still being misrepresented.
Enter Issa Rae: the creator, writer, director and star of the hit YouTube web series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. The witty, finely crafted webisodes garnered more than 25 million views in two seasons. She developed Issa Rae productions, a team of a handful of executives who work in business development and production to make the machine of all things Issa Rae run effectively.
The success of Awkward Black Girl heightened Rae’s presence. HBO picked up Insecure, a comedy series Rae began working on in 2013 with comedian Larry Wilmore. The half-hour series is set to air Oct. 9. Rae also was in talks with creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal Shonda Rhimes on a show titled I Hate L.A. Dudes, but studio/network issues kept the series at bay. Insecure was created shortly after.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Insecure explores the “friendship between two African-American women who deal with their sometimes stormy relationship while also grappling with conflicts inside and outside black culture. Much of the humor has a raw flavor and does not hold back on sexually frank situations and dialogue.” The series was shot in and around Los Angeles and also stars Yvonne Orji, Jay Ellis and Lisa Joyce.
“We’re just trying to convey that people of color are relatable,” Rae said during a session promoting the series during the Television Critics Association press tour. “This is not a ‘hood story. This is about regular people living life.”
Awkward Black Girl premiered on YouTube in 2011. The show follows the life of J (played by Rae) as she interacts with co-workers and love interests. The story is a first-person narrative through J. The characters help to expose J’s feelings and play into her quirky anecdotes that often leave her in odd situations.
As her YouTube audience began to grow, mainstream media started to take notice. Rae and producer Tracy Oliver developed a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to help pay for the rest of the first season of Awkward Black Girl. The total reward was more than $50,000.
As a child, Rae lived in Potomac, Maryland, where she grew up in a predominantly white area. She moved to Los Angeles as a teenager and endured a harsh transition, where she was ridiculed while trying to fit in with predominantly black students. She graduated from Stanford University and later created Awkward Black Girl to lend a voice to an underrepresented population of women and to dispel the Hollywood stereotype that blacks are not relatable on television.
The overwhelming success of her YouTube presence proved that there is a need for fun stories about women of color.
Congratulations, Issa Rae!
*This story has been updated to reflect that Awkward Black Girl ran for two seasons, information about the show Rae worked on with Shonda Rhimes and the infrastructure of Issa Rae Productions.