by Abaki Beck
For our last Feminist Hero of 2016, who better to celebrate than Issa Rae? This year, Issa Rae took television by storm with her debut of comedy series Insecure on HBO, garnering here a Golden Globe nomination within its first season. With the show, she also became the first black woman to write and star in a series for a premium cable channel. Insecure was widely lauded by audiences as an authentic celebration of authentic black women. The average black woman is not a character normally seen (or centered) in television and film, and added to a growing list of empowering media produced by black woman in 2016 (like albums Lemonade and Seat at the Table, tv show Chewing Gum, and more).
Rae got her start in comedy writing and acting with The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, her Youtube series about navigating life, love, work, and awkwardness as a black woman. Her first season grew to such popularity that season two was launched on Pharrell William’s Youtube channel, iamOTHER. Since it’s debut, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl has been watched over 25 million times. Her channel, which has over 200,000 subscribers, not only features her own show, but cultivates and promotes shows made by and centering other people of color too, including The Choir, The ‘F’ Word, and Ratchetpiece Theater.
Season Two Trailer for The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl
Insecure features similar themes to her Youtube series with a new set of characters. In her writing, Rae says she is interested in human interactions and everyday life, saying in an NPR interview: "Isn't it sad that it's revolutionary? It's so basic ... but we don't get to do that. We don't get to just have a show about regular black people being basic." The story centers around the friendship of two black women, Issa (played by Rae) and Molly (played by Yvonne Orji). Molly grew up lower income and became a corporate attorney, while Issa works at a “white guilt fueled” non-profit called We Got Y’all (the logo is children of color held up by a giant white hand). Throughout the season, Issa deals with questioning her relationship with her boyfriend (while Molly debates whether she even wants a relationship), racism from liberal and conservative co-workers, and how to take control of her life as she enters her thirties. Insecure is character driven and focused on the lives of black women in nuanced, complex and comical ways, purposefully avoiding modern tropes of black women as “flawless” or aggressively confident. Instead, the characters have fears, insecurities, and inevitable struggles. Additionally, the story explores political issues like desirability and colorism and struggles with racism as college-educated black women - rarely explored issues, even in tv shows with majority black characters.
Season One Trailer for Insecure
As 2016 comes to an end, we celebrate the media force of Issa Rae. The stories she creates center black women’s experiences that are too often unheard and ignored in mainstream media. Stories like this are essential to counteract the often flat, stereotypical (and thus dehumanizing) representations of people of color seen in mainstream media. Representation matters - it influences how others see and respect us, and how we see and respect ourselves. The more that creators of color like Issa Rae are promoted and celebrated, the more rich and powerful our media landscape will become.