Maya Angelou once said, “All great artists draw from the same source: the human heart, which tells us that we are all more alike than we unalike.”
If this quote describes anyone, it’s Issa Rae. Issa Rae is not just an artist in her own right but a creator. She was able to take a web series she created called “Awkward Black Girl” and turn it into a TV series, called “Insecure.” Both the web and the TV series were originally about her experiences as an awkward Black girl.
Even before the TV series, Issa Rae was breaking barriers with just her web series. Not many people are able to take their life story and make others feel included. She introduced a new face to the idea of what a Black girl is and what she should embody. Issa Rae was able to humanize the Black girl.
Many times movies imitate real life. In so many movies, Black women play either the angry Black woman trope, the hero, the influencer or the token character. Just like in the media, the black woman must stand or be the face of every movement. To garner attention, we have to be seen as digestible. We have to make everyone feel included or comfortable when it comes to existing in our blackness, or we have to be the most fashionable in the room. We can never just exist if we do not fit in those tropes.
Issa Rae’s character Issa Dee was so powerful because she opened a new door and insight into being a Black woman through humor, sometimes clumsy hiccups, but more so grace. Issa Dee normalized not having all the answers, being unsure of both your career and love life. She brought to life the awkward pep talks we must give ourselves just to show up in the world. However, not only did she open doors for Black women but also Black men.
Throughout the show, she took on the challenge that Hollywood has placed on Black men. Hollywood tends to put Black men in a box that labels them as overly masculine and, many times, aggressive.
However, through her many male characters on the show, she wrote them in a way that allowed them to show vulnerability. Some of the male characters were not vulnerable, but they were able to communicate their feelings in not just negative ways but positive ways as well.
She also humanized the Black man allowing people to not only have sympathy, but empathy when these characters were going through tough times. Whether women or men, many African American people were able to see themselves.
The work Issa Rae did was so impactful because, through these characters, she was able to open doors for Black actresses and actors. She allowed directors to see our color or race in different roles. Not only were the two main characters of this show darker-skined women, but Issa Rae made sure that she had transformed her show from being a majority Black cast to having a Black cast only. Not because she was prejudiced, but because it had never been done before. Most Hollywood producers do not believe that a show that has an only Black cast will be digestible or able to reach multiple audiences. However, she was still able to do just that.
The fact that Issa Rae was able to open so many doors in Hollywood with just one show, shows not only her impact but her reach. I believe that she was able to do these things because she never allowed anyone to dilute her voice. Like so many trailblazers before her, she not only had to force her way in the door, but she left the door open for many others who look just like her.
When asked about what she was going to do with her longevity since she defied the lack of longevity that Hollywood normally provides for Black actors and actresses she said,
“For me, my longevity will be opening the door for others. I think frequently about the Tupac quote: ‘I’m going to be the light that sparks the inspiration, that sparks the change.’ I need to get that quote right. [Exact quote: ‘I’m not saying I’m going to change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.’.”