10 Things You Didn’t Know About Insecure’s Issa Rae

October 10, 2016  |  
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Issa Rae’s Insecure premiered yesterday on HBO (though it was made available to stream on HBO GO in advance). If you missed out on the opportunity to check the show out, you need to get on it. Seriously, it’s a gem that has great potential to develop into something really amazing over the next seven episodes. From the music to the way it’s shot and the dialogue, Insecure is an unabashed look into an underrepresented demographic on television — Black women living life in their 20s.

I was going to give you an entire slideshow detailing all of the behind-the-scenes information for the making of the new HBO series, but I thought it would be more fun to give you the deets on the genius behind it. Check out 10 things you probably didn’t know about our shero, Issa Rae.

Issa Rae Big Moves in Hollywood

Image Source: AP Images

About “Issa”

Such a unique name right? Issa is actually short for Jo-Issa, and it’s a combination of the names of Rae’s grandmothers: Joyce and Isseu. The name Rae actually is her aunt’s name, so Issa is representing for the women in her family big time.

She’s Senegalese-American

Or “Halfrican” as she has said. As I pointed out on the previous slide, Rae is actually the writer, producer and actress’s middle name, which was inspired by her aunt. Her actual last name is Diop. Her father, Dr. Abdoulaye Diop, is Senegalese, and Rae and her siblings lived in Dakar for a few years when she was young.

She’s an Ivy League Graduate

Rae went to Stanford and studied African and African-American studies. And while she gave the drama department a try at Stanford, she found it “bland” according to The New York Times. Still, she had success writing and putting together productions outside of the university’s program, including a stage adaptation of Spike Lee’s School Daze. 

She Was Criticized for Acting White

She was criticized for acting and sounding “White” growing up, so it was important to incorporate that struggle in the show. You can see it firsthand in the opening scene of the premiere episode.

“It’s just a notion that there’s, like, a universal way to be black,” Rae said recently during a Television Critics Association panel. “It’s been portrayed throughout media over the years, and it’s been kind of accepted by mainstream media and even in other shows, like this signature way to be black. There’s always a question: What does that mean if you are not that? Does that mean that I’m not black, or does that mean that I don’t fit into this box? And then, what does it mean when other people who are also black question your blackness? I always find the humor in that because you can’t escape being black. It’s on your skin. The opening scene is really a reflection and a representation of what the show represents. What does it mean when you don’t fit into this definition of being black? What does it mean when you don’t fit into the specific categories? And how do you continue?”

Dorm Diaries

Before she delivered The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl to us, one of Issa Rae’s first series was called Dorm Diaries. It was about Black folks on Stanford’s campus.  It exposed her to the capabilities of delivering content to the masses. Per her interview with Filmmaker Magazine

One of Rae’s early Web productions was Dorm Diaries, a series that depicted black student life at Stanford. Facebook and YouTube were starting to blow up, and then Facebook came out with the ability to post media to your profile page. Rae immediately saw the opportunity this created. “I realized that I could write and create a series starring my friends, and that they could share it without any effort. I thought maybe a Web series like that could go viral.” The show didn’t go viral, but it did spread beyond her Stanford friends’ pages. “The series was a mockumentary about what it was like to be black at Stanford, but people at Georgetown, Duke, Howard — all these other schools — were also totally into it. They started seeing it and were like, ‘Oh, this is so cool, this is humor that’s specific to my experience too,’ and so they started sharing it among their own friends.”

issa rae feat

Awkward Black Girl

Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, which definitely went viral, came about after Rae felt like the voices of women who look like her weren’t being heard.

“I felt like my voice was missing,” Rae told The Huffington Post,” and the voices of other people that I really respect and admire and want to see in the mainstream are missing.”

I Hate LA Dudes

Before Insecure, Rae was working with Shonda Rhimes, shopping a series called I Hate LA Dudes to ABC. It was somewhat similar to Insecure, but also pretty different. It followed a twenty-something who works for a non-profit by day, but by night, works to be a rapper. Interesting, right? Behind-the-scenes differing visions for the show were the reason it didn’t work.

“It was my first experience working with a network and the studios and I wanted to include all of the studio’s notes and criticism and ultimately it was no longer my vision,” Rae told Chicago magazine. “It showed and they passed on it.”

insecure issa rae

Insecure’s Title Came From Rae’s Hope to Celebrate “Weak Black Women”

As she said on social media, “It’s because there’s this narrative that’s going around that’s awesome: Black women are fierce, they’re strong, they’re flawless. And I don’t know that life. My friends definitely don’t know that life. So I wanted to center a show around weak Black women and the uncertainty they feel on that journey to get to greatness. It’s like the prequel to Black girl magic.”

Issa Rae


She Wanted to Showcase Male Nudity on Her Show

As Rae put it, “We just wanted to flip the script a little bit, and there’s always an expectation that we just have to be titties-and-ass out,” she said. “I think with this we had an opportunity with two female leads to be like, ‘OK. There’s going to be a lot of sex in the show. Our guys are game. So let’s just have them bear it all.’ And they did. They were great about it.”

Issa Rae


Her Dream Job

As she told WNYC, which could totally be a joke but I just had to share, was that despite all the success she’s had, her dream job has more to do with music. “I want to tour the world doing hood rat music with my friends.”

Don’t we all?

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