February 20, 2016


Future Black History Month: Issa Rae's YouTube-to-HBO Success

Mark Davis/BET/Getty Images for BET
Mark Davis/BET/Getty Images for BET

This year, we’re celebrating an extended Black History Month by highlighting a variety of rising forces who are creating history before our very eyes. As the creator/star/writer of the celebrated online series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae has walked a steady line from URL to IRL stardom. Her show premiered in 2011 and ran for two years, totaling 25 episodes and earning her more than 208,000 YouTube subscribers to date. In 2012, she made Forbes30 Under 30 list for entertainers.

More recently, HBO bought Rae's Insecure, a series where she and Yvonne Orji live through "uncomfortable experiences and racy tribulations." Days before this year's Super Bowl, Rae launched Fruit, a 10-part podcast drama told from the point of view of a fictional football player exploring and struggling with his sexuality. “All these alpha-male sports just don’t allow for masculine gay men," Rae told the Guardian. "And masculinity itself is just [so] fragile that I always found it interesting to explore in the sports world."

Unstoppable-ness established yet? No? How about this: A year ago Rae published an essay collection with a familiar name: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. In it she nakedly laments Hollywood's alarmingly frequent depiction of the "extremely tragic black woman, or the magic helpless Negro, or the many black men in dresses." A couple pages later she goes on:

"...I grew angry, resentful, and impatient. How hard is it to portray a three-dimensional woman of color on television or in film? I’m surrounded by them. They’re my friends. I talk to them every day. How come Hollywood won’t acknowledge us? Are we a joke to them?’’

Rae's got talented folks at her back. Insecure was co-created by Comedy Central's The Nightly Show host Larry Wilmore. The pilot is directed by Melina Matsoukas, a music video vet who just did Beyoncé's essential "Formation" video as well as almost a dozen previous Bey vids including "Pretty Hurts," "Diva" and "Upgrade U." (Visuals for WhitneyJ.LoCiaraRihannaMissyGaga and Solange, too. Whoa.) Rae and Shonda Rhimes also worked together on an ill-fated ABC comedy pilot.

Rae maintains an honest, hilarious, motivational and thought-provoking social media presence, giving prospective fans a great entry point into her singular point-of-view and talents. A few recent faves of ours:

The caption on that last one? "Because it's Black History Month. #PositiveAffirmations #InsecureWriters."