I’m not sure if it’s humanly possible for me to love Issa Rae even more than I already do, but a recent New York Times Magazine profile of the woman responsible for brining The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl to life reminds me why I’m such a huge fan.
In the must-read article, Rae discusses her upbringing (she lived in Senegal for two years), her scuttled pilot deal with Shonda Rhimes (she wavered from her vision), what inspired ABG, and how she hopes to put other content creators of color on the map. While the entire article is a wonderful and insightful read, one of the biggest revelations is just how fiercely Rae protected Awkward Black Girl from Hollywood’s attempts to make it decidedly less Black.
Jenna Wortham of the New York Times Magazine writes:
Her own show was an instant hit online in 2011, and soon a number of networks and production companies expressed interest in adapting ‘‘Awkward Black Girl’’ for prime-time TV. To Rae’s disappointment, most wanted to completely rework the show. Rae recalls a phone conversation with a network executive who wanted to make it into a pan-racial franchise operation, starting with ‘‘Awkward Indian Boy.’’ Another suggested Rae recast the lead with a lighter-skinned actress with long, straight hair — in essence, the exact opposite of Rae. She turned down the offers.
Although network executives wanted to work with Rae and tap into her dedicated fan base, they didn’t respect her mission to create programming that centers complex Black characters.
‘‘They wanted to make it as broad as possible, broadly niche, but I was like: No, that’s not what this is about,’’ she explained.
Even HBO, the network Rae is working with to develop the pilot for “Insecure,” was leery of allowing the Stanford grad to form a team that was extremely diverse.
HBO approved the script for ‘‘Insecure’’ in the fall of 2013. 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.
While many people would have been discouraged, or worse, compromised their vision, Rae has stayed the course. As “Insecure” slowly moves through the channels at HBO, Rae supports creators of color through her company Issa Rae Productions and Color Creative, her digital platform. For Rae, who said she was inspired to tell stories by watching Yvette Lee Bowser’s Living Single, it’s all about lifting others as she climbs.
‘‘I don’t ever want it to be just me, ever,’’ she explained. ‘‘That is the worst feeling, to be alone, because then all the pressure is on you. People expect you to be the voice of everyone.’’
Thankfully for us, Rae isn’t afraid to use her voice to be a forceful advocate for both content creators of color and those of us who love, and crave, their work.