Issa Rae: “I Felt Like My Voice Was Missing”
You may be familiar with Issa Rae’s hit series, Insecure, on HBO, but she’s certainly not new to curating dope content for Black men and women.
Recently, Issa won the Star Power award on Black Girls Rock 2017 awards. She said, “For a long time, I used to define myself by what I wasn’t. But then my life changed when I focused on what I was, what I was good at and what made me stand out.”
Issa got her start on YouTube with her first web series, Dorm Diaries, which she produced her senior year at Stanford University. The series focused on student life at Stanford with an all-Black cast and it quickly circulated around campus and eventually made its way to Georgetown and Harvard. It was then that Issa realized she had a knack for portraying everyday Black life.
In 2011, Issa created The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl because she could not relate to the Hollywood stereotypes of Black women and felt they were limiting. “I felt like my voice was missing, and the voices of other people that I really respect and admire and want to see in the mainstream are missing,” Issa said in a past interview.
ABG focuses on the life of J as she interacts with coworkers and love interests who place her in uncomfortable situations. Funds were tight for Issa so in effort to raise money to fund the rest of the first season, Issa and producer Tracy Oliver decided to raise funds for the series through Kickstarter. With 1,960 donations they were awarded $56, 269 and released the rest of the season on Issa’s YouTube Channel.
For the second season, Issa partnered with Pharrell Williams and released the series on his YouTube channel, iamOTHER.
“I’ve always had an issue with the [assumption] that people of color…and Black people especially, aren’t relatable. I know we are,” Issa told the Sun Reporter. With Issa’s YouTube channel, she has full creative control of her work and she writes, films, produces and edits all of her projects. Her other popular shows on YouTube include Ratchet Piece Theater, Roomieloverfriends and The Choir, where all shows focus on African American experiences that are not often portrayed in mainstream media.
Issa’s break into the TV realm did not come without complications. Issa worked with Shonda Rhimes to create a pilot for ABC titled, I Hate L.A. Dudes, but the show was not picked up. “During the process, I was eager to please and kind of lost my own voice. I was not cemented in my voice in the same way,” Issa said in a previous interview with fastcocreate.com.
“In my eager-to-please, ‘this is my only chance’ mind-set, I wasn’t as firm as I should have been in [developing the story],” said Issa.
“I wanted to tell a story about dating in L.A. I like to be raw, I like to curse, I like the N-word, I like portraying sex and I like portraying the discomfort of stuff. I think that’s not really fit for network television. And because I wasn’t secure in the story, it was easy for me to flip-flop [on what I wanted.] And that’s not how you tell a story. When ABC ended up passing on the project, I was devastated, but I understood why. It was on me at the end of the day.”