Issa Rae, born Jo-Issa Rae Diop, is a very funny and talented young sister whose brand of Black Girl Magic may run opposite of the narrative of overwhelming triumph against seemingly insurmountable odds for women of color. Rae’s career accomplishments and humor aren’t so much mystical and ethereal as they are the culmination of years of hard work.
The Stanford University graduate’s wildly popular Youtube series, Awkward Adventures of a Black Girl, thrust her into a niche notoriety that quickly gained the attention of Hollywood’s elite gatekeepers. Now she’s on the verge of becoming a household name.
Recently, Rae participated in a Q&A panel about her and Larry Wilmore’s upcoming, highly-anticipated HBO series, Insecure that also featured cast members Yvonne Orji, Jay Ellis, director Lelina Matsoukas and executive producer Prentice Penny at the 20th Urbanworld Film Festival.
(Photo Credit: HBO)
Rae told the gathering about the method to her madness.
“I think it’s a combination of identifying with not being strong at times,” she said. “I identify with the narrative of being flawless and fierce, and the narrative of black girl magic. That’s a great narrative, but I don’t feel that way all of the time. There’s a journey there and that’s the part I’m more interested in. I feel like I’m in a constant struggle and these characters are as well and I felt like that as a beautiful journey.”
“Absolutely, we’re all flawed.,” added director Melina Matsoukas. “And this was my first forray from film to TV and I wanted to make sure I bring something to it. I read the script and realized that was my life in the script and I wanted to be a part of Insecure.”
To be certain, this show is black. How black is it? While it isn’t so black that light is trapped by gravity, it’s pretty darn close.
“I’ve been on shows where I have been the only person of color in the writers’ room,” said executive producer Prentice Penny. “So, I know what that looks like. When I saw that the show was being picked up, I was still writing on Comedy Central, and I was like ‘I don’t want anybody to f*ck this up’. I mean, we rarely get shows like this, especially not on HBO. So I wanted to help nourish this project and shelter this project. Issa’s an amazing talent. I didn’t want anybody to come in an mess that up.”
People would kill to get their own show on HBO, but Issa confided that this wasn’t her first “make or break” deal. She told us of another one that fell through.
(Photo Credit: HBO)
“For me, the biggest disappointment came and I could only blame myself, and that’s the worse part. If it’s you then you always say, I could have done better. I could have done more. For me, that opportunity came when I had the chance to work with ShondaLand (Shonda Rhimes’ production company). I treated it like ‘Oh my god, this is my one chance, my one opportunity,’ and they couldn’t have been more patient with me as far as leading me into the television experience because I had never written for TV before.”
“It was the pilot for a show called ‘I Hate L.A. Dudes'”, Rae continued. “They hated L.A. men, too. So we bonded. The thing I didn’t understand was there was the network and the studio, and notes from them. I had to have an intimate relationship with them and hold their hands. I was so eager to please them and was like ‘Okay, yeah, I’ll take this note, and I’ll make this one work, and I’ll make this one work.’ Instead of navigating these notes like other writers do and saying, ‘I’ll think on that’, I wasn’t confident enough in my own vision to say ‘That doesn’t really work for the story.'”
(Photo Credit: HBO)
Many of the individuals working on Insecure are connects Rae has made over the years.
“I love working with my friends,” she said. “I love working with people who have helped me to get here to begin with. Like, it’s always been a team journey. I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget the people who have helped along the way. That’s hard to do. There are so many people working to tell that, who are on a pathway of their own. It’s about a bunch of people who are on their own paths to pursue their own goals, ensuring they meet those goals as you meet yours too. That’s something that I always believe in.”
“She is like that, and I’m not just saying that because I’m on the show,” added comedic actress Yvonne Orji. “I’m a benefactor of her remembering me. I tell the story all the time, she picked me up out of the blue at a time I felt forgotten. Like ‘Hey, girl. What’s going on?’ It’s in Issa’s heart to remember people and bring people along.”
“Anybody who knows Issa, knows that is true,” added Penny. “Like, when we were doing the cast and I’d be like to cast (so and so) for this role, and she’d be like ‘Oh, no, no. I got a friend that’s going to play that role.’ This chick holds people down.”
Insecure is hilariously ribald, smart and revealing. The show drops on HBO on Sunday October 9th.
Hold Issa down and tune in.