‘Insecure’ Creator & Pioneer TV Star Issa Rae Tackles Race & Gender On Her Hit Show

Season 2 of HBO’s newest hit show ‘Insecure’ has just wrapped up and has no doubt left fans and viewers on edge for Season 3, wondering what will happen between Issa and her ex-boyfriend Lawrence, and whether Molly will continue her relationship with married friend Dro or pursue something with colleague Quentin. What we love about the show is that it is breaking new ground both on screen and behind the scenes.

Issa co-created the show with Larry Wilmore and also stars as the main character, making her the first black woman to create and star in a premium cable series, as explained by TIME’s recent “Firsts” campaign which profiled a number of pioneer women in a range of different fields.

Before achieving the success she has today, Issa created and starred in a viral web series called ‘The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl’ which premiered online in 2011, and also wrote a book of the same name. It catapulted her into a position of power within the industry at a time when diversity and conversations around the inclusion of women especially have been on the rise.

In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Issa spoke at length about the various character developments of Season 2, and how the show tackles real world issues in an intersectional way. Most notably, the issue of the gender wage gap is presented through Molly’s story line as we see her attempting to progress up the corporate ladder this season, only to be stonewalled by her older, white, straight, male bosses.

Regardless of Molly’s success and attempts by other firms to lure her away, she is frustrated by not feeling like a valued member of her own law firm, seen most ostensibly in the scene where her 3 male bosses sit her down, praise her performance, and instead of offering her a raise like she is hoping for, present her with something akin to a participation certificate. Issa explains this issue was very important to her the more she became aware of it in Hollywood.

“I wasn’t aware that it was so prevalent in the entire industry, and not just in Hollywood, but in corporate environments too – just everywhere. It’s such an archaic issue that needs to be addressed especially considering the tiers of inequality; not only is it women vs. men, it’s black women, it’s Latino women and the lie of it all,” she explained.

It’s part of the attraction of ‘Insecure’, a show that offers a realistic and nuanced look at the lives of black women while allowing the viewer to form their own opinion as the issue-driven story lines are not presented in a definitive, preachy manner.

“Being able to explore that on the show and have people talk about it, and to address it and to show a potential solution and to have people kind of question their own personal worth at their job – it fit exactly within the vein of our show because we don’t necessarily take a side either way. We just present and we let people discuss and just in seeing the response to the story arc has been really satisfying,” said Issa.

Behind the scenes, Issa has previously spoken of the intentional way she chose key creatives from a diverse pool of talent, as a way to be part of the solution, once she was in a position to do so. In September 2016 before the show first premiered, she and executive producer and director Melina Matsoukas spoke about the importance of breaking barriers, in a way that would eventually make a concept like “diversity” seem redundant because it is the norm.

The duo, along with fellow executive producer Prentice Penny were given the go-ahead by HBO to think outside the traditional Hollywood boundaries when looking for creatives behind the scene, and they were shocked at how few people of color were present in the roles they were looking to fill. But when asked about whether they feel a responsibility to further the diversity stakes, they are quick to point out that just because they are women of color, the burden shouldn’t just fall on them.

“I get where the diversity questions are coming from. My irritation stems from when people are like . . .‘Do you feel a responsibility to talk about Black Lives Matter, or talk about what’s happening in this country on your show?’ And I’m like, I don’t feel any more responsibility than the people on ‘Divorce’ should feel, or, like, the people on ‘Veep’ should feel, you know? And I feel like placing the responsibility on us, the people who talk about it all the time, who know what the f**k is going on, is where it gets irritating. That limits it to a diversity problem, and a people of color problem. And it’s an American problem,” said Issa.

Everybody should be asked questions about diversity,” Melina added.

Vanity Fair’s Yohana Desta mentioned in that feature how people like Oprah and Ava DuVernay have sworn off being flag-bearers for diversity because it should be a no-brainer. Ava in particular has shown exactly how to normalize diversity by literally hiring only female directors (including a number of women of color) for ‘Queen Sugar’, the series she executive produces for the Oprah Winfrey Network.

For Issa Rae, it’s clear that her main agenda is to create great entertainment with an intention to center characters that not just black women, but everyone can relate to. However, being able to give visibility to other black female characters was something she had always dreamed of doing, and now she gets to do that on a major cable network and prove that diverse characters can indeed relate to many audiences.

I want to create characters that people can relate to. For so long, entertainment executives have said the reason they don’t cast people of color is that they’re not relatable onscreen. It’s such a segregationist mentality, and I always knew that it was false…There’s so much subtlety in the sexism and racism in this industry that you either have to call it out and risk being shunned, or move past it and find your own entryway. I’m definitely in the latter category,” she wrote in her TIME “Firsts” essay.

We can’t wait for Season 3 of ‘Insecure’!

 

 

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  1. Pingback: How Issa Rae is changing the way Hollywood lets black women create

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