All Articles Tagged "issa rae"
“Never compromise who you are personally to get to where you want to be professionally,” is one bit of wisdom from the first African American female billion-dollar business owner, Janice Bryant Howroyd, that has stuck with me.
One could say Issa Rae is living that advice as she seeks to take her production from the web to television. In a recent New York Times profile, Rae discussed the barriers she has encountered as well as her devotion to portraying black authenticity (i.e. protecting her brand).
Rae’s 2011 “The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl” (ABG) was a huge online success and soon big TV networks had their eyes on the self-crowned awkward black girl. In 2013, HBO picked up Rae’s “Insecure” script and what many thought to be amazing news turned out to be a breach of creative control.
Two years later, Rae finds herself fighting to hire a Black crew of like-minded writers and producers who can bring her script to life along with more minority characters.
“In a way, whether Hollywood can adapt to creators like Rae will be a litmus test for how seriously it takes black entertainment,” stated the Times. And right now they seem to be failing.
The webisode hit wonder, first recognized her talent to portray everyday Black like during her studies at Stanford University where she produced her first web series, “Dorm Diaries.” The show featured an all-black cast and spread across college campuses like wildfire.
“It was a light bulb, my epiphany moment,’’ said Rae who grew up during the 90s when hit Black shows were in full swing.
That upbringing on real TV depictions of Black culture and her desire to bring to life complex black characters led all eyes to Issa, but pushing past the web is no easy feat.
When networks originally came to Rae hoping to adopt the ABG series for TV, they all came with their own ideas of what it should look like, suggesting a lighter, long-haired main lead and even a line of “Awkward” such as “Awkard Indian Boy.” Rae wasn’t having it.
“They wanted to make it as broad as possible, broadly niche, but I was like: No, that’s not what this is about,’’ said Rae.
And this wouldn’t be the last time Rae sat fielding calls to change her flavor of blackness. In 2013, we all rejoiced when we heard that Rae and Shonda Rhimes were teaming up for a new comedy. Rae pitched her “I Hate L.A. Dudes” script and Rhimes’ team loved it so much it sold to ABC. But when the time came for the script to be completed, Rae was faced with opposing opinions of what the show should look like.
‘‘I compromised my vision, and it didn’t end up the show that I wanted,’’ she said. ‘‘It wasn’t funny anymore.’’
But more opportunities would come with the rise of online network streaming, HBO knocked on Rae’s door wondering if she had other pitches. This is where “Insecure,” her two-year awaiting pilot appears, featuring a woman turning 30 and facing delays into adulthood.
“Rae was excited to hire a support staff of other nonwhite writers and producers who would be intimately familiar with the milieu inhabited by her characters. She had a wish list of people she liked — primarily young women of color — but she soon found out HBO had little interest in hiring them. Generally, an HBO spokeswoman said, the network wants people who have experience” stated the Times.
Eventually, two years later, HBO would pair Rae up with Black writer and producer Prentice Penny, and sparks would fly. But it took Rae’s patience and sticking to her vision for that to happen.
Rae isn’t stopping with herself. If networks can’t get it right she’s bringing more writers of color to the forefront herself.
“As Rae sees it, the lack of diversity in writers’ rooms makes it hard to develop complex characters of color on-screen.”
This is why Rae started Color Creative, a digital platform that helps writers produce and find funding for their shows while offering a space to be seen.
“I don’t ever want it to be just me, ever” said Rae.
The ABG creator is not the only one fighting for mainstream TV executives to get Black life right. Shows such as “Empire” and “Black-ish” have shown the industry that audiences are looking for complex Black characters who are not only for us, but by us.
There is no denying that 2015 has started off with a bang for Black women in Hollywood. We are finally seeing sistas dominating on screen, behind the scenes, and in the boardroom. Let’s celebrate Black Excellence as we take a look at 15 women who are doing it big in Hollywood right now.
“I hope someone sees this and thinks: ‘I will live the life I choose,’” tweeted director Ava DuVernay. She was speaking about her Essence magazine cover and feature story with fellow storytellers Debbie Allen, Shonda Rhimes, Mara Brock Akil, and Issa Rae. In the magazine, the five women, who have individually and collectively made history several times over, discuss the current state of the entertainment industry, sex, and relationships. The friendly, open conversation amongst these powerhouse friends reflects the growing, lasting legacy these women have built, one we should all see ourselves in.
These women are proof that diversity, both in front of and behind the camera, is not a fad or too much of a good thing. They have staying power, and in an industry obsessed with numbers — from box office and Nielsen ratings to clicks on YouTube and the obvious dollar, dollar bills. Numbers don’t lie. And time and again, numbers have proven that viewers are craving diverse content, hunger that seems to surprise critics when a film like The Best Man Holiday does well. We’re smarter than the prevailing assumptions: that movies (or TV shows for that matter) with predominantly Black casts are “race films,” stories that won’t resonate with people not of color. We’re smarter than that.
The success of these women is no accident or mere fluke, folks. Content – great content, is king. It generates viewers, loyal fans and sends social media abuzz. Ava, Debbie, Shonda, Mara and Issa create honest portrayals of humanity, womanhood, femininity, and Blackness; multi-dimensional characters who own their agency and women who openly embrace their sexuality. Diversity is a fact of human existence, and their work gives it a chance in beautiful ways.
These women didn’t ask for permission, nor did they sit around and wait for opportunity to come knocking because, in all honesty, it wasn’t looking for them. They saw a need, coupled it with vision, and moved mountains to make some of the most poignant stories that have ever hit screens and stages.
Months ago, I saw Unsung Hollywood’s episode on A Different World. Debbie Allen made a hilarious yet serious comment about the lack of hot sauce on tables at Hillman’s hangout spot, The Pit. It being on the campus of a Southern HBCU, the absence almost seemed absurd to Allen. It’s that kind of attention to detail, something that all of these women have, that assures us that our stories are in capable hands. Our voices will be heard. We will be understood. In their arms, we aren’t reduced to mere stereotypes or caricatures. We won’t be led astray.
These women have done more than open doors. They have paved permanent paths and created a landscape that pushes past the labels put on us. A landscape that drives past our perceived limitations, past the absurd notion that we don’t rightfully belong here, in this space of abundance, awareness, possibility, and agency. And they do it while juggling marriage, motherhood, and multiple projects – while running the world with their bad selves.
In Ava DuVernay, Debbie Allen, Shonda Rhimes, Mara Brock Akil, Issa Rae and other storytellers like Felicia D. Henderson and Gina Prince-Bythewood, I see support and opportunity. I see a reason to push past my fears, to tell the stories that dance around in my head and keep me up at night. I see the next generation of storytellers. I see beauty and resilience. I see us. And I am thankful. Very thankful.
Game-Changers Debbie Allen, Ava DuVernay, Shonda Rhimes & More Talk About The Black Women Who Inspired Them
We were happy to report the news that Essence magazine was featuring a few of our favorites, Debbie Allen, Mara Brock Akil, Ava DuVernay, Issa Rae, and Shonda Rhimes, on the cover of their Mary issue.
Not only did the women look absolutely beautiful in their white, in some recent videos from behind the cover shoot, the cover girls talked about what it meant to be featured with this group of women and the Black women who inspired them to pursue careers in film and television.
Check out some of the highlights from the videos and the full clips below.
The Black woman who inspired DuVernay to tell stories
The Black woman who inspired me to be storyteller was my Aunt Denise. She was a storyteller in her own right, as many people in our families are who may not be able to amplify their stories through film, or television or books or media. She was the storyteller of our family, the keeper of our stories, the one who made sure that we were connected through our own narratives in the family. She loved film, she loved theater and she was really the person who inspired me to say that I want to tell stories and that it was ok to do that and pursue that.
The Black woman who inspired Debbie Allen
The Black woman that has inspired me to be in arts is really my mother, Vivian Ayers. She encouraged me to dance, to study ballet, to train, even though things were segregated in Houston, Texas. She’s also been my greatest critic, my biggest fan. She is an accomplished writer, composer, cultural activist, great cook and she’s beautiful. My mom.
The Black woman who inspired Shonda Rhimes
The Black woman who inspired me to go into show business was Whoopi Goldberg. I saw her live on Broadway show when I was about 17 and it was so brilliantly written and it really inspired and made me think that I could be writer. It was a really different kind of writing and it spoke to me. It had nothing to do with me, it had nothing to do with my life and yet it was entirely familiar. It made me feel like I could be a writer.
The Black woman who inspired Issa Rae
The Black woman who inspired me to go into show business is Gina Prince Bythewood. I remember the first time I saw Love and Basketball knowing that it was written, directed, co-produced by a Black woman, shot in my neighborhood, I just remember my eyes opening wide with like ‘Oh my gosh I can do this and I want to do this and I want to create these stories.’ I definitely credit her for me taking that leap. The first step I took was writing a script. I wrote her a letter asking her to direct the script actually. She wrote me back and encouraged me to keep writing and that was the fuel I needed. Like, ‘Yes, she wrote me back, I’m supposed to do this.’
The Black woman who inspired Mara Brock Akil
It’s funny that Debbie Allen is here today. I remember her on “Fame” but I think when I found out that she was behind the storytelling of “A Different World” I was like, ‘I’ve got to get in that world.’ I think before, television was something that I experienced but then when I realized she was doing it and how much the stories moved me, I wanted to be a part of that conversation. It’s such an honor to be here with her because our journey has continued but for us to be documented together in this way, I’m near tears, actually I’m so excited.
I love these stories about the women who inspired them. It really illustrates how doing what excites us and following our passions can open the door for the next generation. Beautiful. You can check out the full video from the behind the cover shoot below.
Apparently, white is the color of the season—at least if you’re judging by the May cover of Essence it is. Hollywood’s movers and shakers Ava DuVernay, Shonda Rhimes, Mara Brock Akil, Issa Rae and Debbie Allen all appear on the magazine’s Game Changers issue rocking winter white ensembles. Inside, they dish on sexuality and diversity in television and film.
Shonda Rhimes on why women of color making waves in Hollywood is not a trend:
“It’s an economic fact. There are more people of color than ever before…When the shows start doing bigger numbers than what they think are going to be their top ten shows, it becomes really hard to suggest that it’s a trend.”
Ava DuVernay on the need for more diversity behind the camera:
“Of course that has to happen […] but it is more about people working autonomously, independently, to create their own structures, mechanisms, companies, outlets. Look at you, Issa—nobody was giving you anything, so you created your own work and your own platform and your own way to distribute.”
Debbie Allen on seeing progress and hope in regard to diversity in Hollywood:
“I look at it as an opportunity. It is wide open and for the taking. When I first started, there were no women in the room, there were no Black people in the room.”
Mara Brock Akil on showcasing Black women’s sex lives:
“I’ve been relentless [about discussing sexuality] since Girlfriends… My feeling about sexuality and showing a consenting adult having sex is that it’s so empowering “Because if you are making the choice, you then have to be responsible for the choice. I think that message is conveyed to the audience. You’re not just there for the convenience of a man, you are there because you want it. It creates an opportunity—well, hopefully—for the young lady watching or the other women watching to understand you have a say in this.”
We’ve all seen a recent influx of Black excellence on primetime TV — and we’re not complaining. Empire, How to Get Away With Murder, and Black-ish, just to name a few, are successful shows with Black leads that are dominating the nighttime network slots. And Issa Rae, creator of Awkward Black Girl, says it’s all about the money.
Isn’t it always?
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Rae notes that viewers are increasingly seeing diversity on TV because network executives are finally realizing the profitability of Black actors and actresses on nighttime dramas:
“I think [TV executives are] like, ‘Oh we see what works and let’s replicate it,'” she told host Marc Lamont Hill. “I don’t think it’s about even blackness or diversity. It’s really about, ‘Oh my gosh there are eyeballs.’ How do we capitalize? How do we take advantage?”
Rae notes that the reason behind the new proliferation of Black leads is social media, which sparked a light bulb among network executives:
“Social media changed the game in that you’re seeing all of these tweets, you’re seeing all these trending topics from … Black people who are expressing what they want to see. Now people take notice,” she added.
Though Rae concedes to the fact that TV executives are recognizing that catering to a Black viewership is lucrative, the Awkward Black Girl creator says this “trend” might be short-lived:
“Until you have people in positions of power that have varied experiences, nothing will change,” she said. “Honestly, we’re not on their radar. They don’t know. They’re not really thinking about us. If you have people in positions of power that don’t have very many Black friends, that don’t really understand the Black experience, they’re not thinking about it and there are not enough people concerned with it.”
We can only hope that Rae’s fears of a temporary Black presence on TV are unfounded and that we will have a continuation of the Black narrative unfold right before our eyes on the tube.
YouTube star Rae has 200,000 subscribers, 20 million video views, a Shorty Award for Awkward Black Girl, and a brand new book titled The Misadventures of the Awkward Black Girl.
Issa Rae may be an awkward girl but nothing about her business moves are awkward.
According to Deadline, the filmmaker is working on a new project titled Insecure with HBO. The project will focus on the experiences of an African American woman in today’s day and age. The series was originally set to premiere in 2013. However, it never came to light.
Now, Issa is set to bring it back with Larry Wilmore. Wilmore co-created and wrote the project with Issa. As of right now, no debut date has been released but Deadline is reporting it will be a part of HBO’s 2015 comedy pilot slate.
Congratulations to Issa! We hope Insecure receives a green light confirmation.
Variety reports that HBO has greenlit the pilot for the comedy show, Insecure, that will star Issa Rae. It will be based on the awkward experiences African Americans encounter every day including race relations and relationships.
Initially the show was in development in 2013 but Larry Wilmore who will serve as the show’s executive producer landed The Nightly Show on Comedy Central. Rae, who became a YouTube sensation with her hit webseries “Awkward Black Girl” will also serve as the co-executive producer of Insecure.
Both Wilmore and Rae wrote the pilot for Insecure.
Congratulations to Larry and Issa! We’re excited to see when the pilot premieres!
Shonda Rhimes is Issa Rae’s mentor, the creator of the hit “Awkward Black Girl” web series. Therefore it is only right for Rae to be tackling TV with gusto. She will be premiering three television pilots produced by her company ColorCreative.Tv at the 2014 Urbanworld Film Festival.
A dark comedy following the odd couple relationship of a depressed carpet cleaner who’s forced to do clean up jobs for a no-nonsense hitman. Written by Shawn Boxe and directed by Victoria Mahoney.
Words With Girls
A lesbian relationship comedy centered on a group of 20-something, fast-talking, attitude-having LA transplants. Written by Brittani Nichols and directed by Tessa Blake.
A quirky buddy comedy about two best pals navigating love, life and medical marijuana in urban Los Angeles. Written by Syreeta Singleton and directed by Daven Baptiste.
Besides launching ColorCreative.tv, Rae is in the process of developing a network television show with her mentor Rhimes.
Spring is here and love is in the air — all thanks to a new Issa Rae webseries!
Rae who kept us locked into “The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl” is debuting a new webseries called “First.” Dubbed the modern-day Love Jones with a leading man just as cute as Larenz Tate, the series will revolve around a couple who were childhood love interests.
The leading characters, Robin and Charles, fall back in love as adults but “First” allow viewers to see how things are not as simple as a childhood love affair. According to Cultured Starved, the webseries was created by Jahmela Biggs. Biggs has previously worked on the NBC series “Whitney” and Magic Johnson’s Network ASPiRE’s “Cocoa Love.” Co-staring along with Biggs is newcomer Will Catlett.
Below is the trailer and a clip from the first episode of “First!” It debuts, tonight on the Issa Rae Channel. Will you tune in?
[UPDATE] Click the next page to see the premiere of “First!”