Fuse is once again celebrating an extended Black History Month by looking at a variety of rising forces who are creating Future Black History before our eyes. Today we're talking about Issa Rae, who in 2016 turned years of multiplatform success into a hit HBO comedy, Insecure, which features her as co-creator, executive producer, star and writer. It took its place on Fuse's Best New TV Series of 2016 list with ease.
Jo-Issa Rae Diop, 32, was born in L.A. to a teacher mom from Louisiana and a Sengalese doctor dad; one chapter in her memoir, the 2015 New York Times best-seller The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, is called "Halfrican." The book shares a title with the beloved, outrageous web series Rae launched in 2011. From that point on, Rae ceaselessly demonstrated how to be an internet content innovator and mogul, bending Kickstarter, celebrity collaborations (Pharrell, Shonda Rhimes), podcasts and social media all in service of her far-reaching mission.
Rae launched Color Creative TV in 2014 to "increase opportunities for women and minority TV writers to showcase and sell their work, both inside and outside the existing studio system." At the time, she told Ebony about the need to subvert Hollywood's problematic precedents:
“A lot of these diversity initiatives staff writers to a television show and pay them separately through a diversity salary. Everyone knows they’re the affirmative action diversity hire, which is kind of embarrassing. They’re not given the respect that other staffers get. ... I predict that Netflix absorbs people of color. I can also see a solid BET of the future online, where the content of people of color is its own network.”
To start 2017, Color Creative TV launched a Fresh Wave initiative, an opportunity for folks "who have an underrepresented voice in mainstream media and have a creative pitch for a young adult television series." Fifty entrants will soon be identified; by the final stage, three will spend a month developing their pilot scripts with industry mentors. The winner will get $5,000 and have his or her pilot optioned.
Rae's YouTube channel has 250,000 subscribers and hosts #ShortFilmSundays, the Fruit podcast (an audio-fiction about a football player exploring his sexuality in an adverse environment), and the interview series A Sip, where Issa hosts "an unscripted, intimate fireside chat over drinks with creatives we are inspired by." A new single-creator-driven series, Giants, premiered in January. Rae's ability to shepherd creators' visions is immense; she's executive produced a half-dozen series aside from Insecure, and a number of longer-form projects.
Last fall, Rae told Fast Company's Fast Co.Create:
"I don’t want to invalidate anybody’s black experience. But it seems to me [on television], we’re either extremely magical, or we’re extremely flawless. But we don’t get to just be boring. Like, it’s a privilege to be able to be boring and not answer questions like, 'What do you think about this shooting?' and 'How are you overcoming all of these obstacles?' What about the times that I’m just kicking it with friends at brunch? Those are the moments that we want to reflect, in addition to talking about some of the issues that we encounter racially. That stuff plays in the background to our regular lives on the show, but we wanted to be in these characters’ worlds first."
In 2016, Rae spearheaded a GoFundMe campaign that collected $714,413 for college funds for the children of Alton Sterling, the 37-year-old black man murdered by police in Baton Rogue, La. The original goal was $200,000; $100,000 was raised in six hours. "My mom, upon hearing about this fund, called this new movement a form of #EconomicAnger," Rae wrote on the page. "It's clear that our dollars (whether through boycotting or through united contributions) are sometimes the loudest way to make our voices heard. We will stand together and we will help our own until we're able to effectively change this system for the better. "
Rae's influence, voice and goals are phenomenal, and they've been recognized as such. Insecure's debut season got her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Musical or Comedy (she lost to Black-ish's Tracee Ellis Ross). Lists she's landed on include Forbes' 30 Under 30 list for entertainers, Glamour's 35 Under 35 and Essence's Game Changers, and she'll be back on HBO with Insecure Season 2 this year. The wait shouldn't be unbearable; having succeeded in both the Hollywood establishment and the wild, wild west of the internet, she's always got something else around the corner.