In­ter­na­tional celeb – Issa Rae

As cre­ator and star of the hit se­ries In­se­cure, ISSA RAE, 32, has be­come Hol­ly­wood’s go-to girl. It’s a far cry from the days when she didn’t fit in.

True Love - - News - By PHILA TYEKANA

Black film­mak­ers are thriv­ing at their art, nar­rat­ing our sto­ries the le­git way. Lo­cally, shows such as Tjovitjo, iNum­ber Num­ber and oth­ers are break­ing view­er­ship records. Abroad, di­rec­tor and screen­writer Ava Du­Ver­nay has trans­formed screen de­pic­tions with her un­apolo­get­i­cally black-themed movies, se­ries and doc­u­men­taries. Lead roles for black women have ma­te­ri­alised and gained dom­i­nance and re­spect from view­ers. There’s Kerry Wash­ing­ton’s bril­liance in the TV drama Scan­dal, Gabrielle Union in Be­ing Mary Jane, and Taraji P. Hen­son in Em­pire. They’ve set the bar sky-high and now, a new crop of black women has sur­faced. Issa Rae is one of them – she’s the cre­ator, cowriter and star of the US hit show, In­se­cure, which airs lo­cally on the DStv chan­nel Vuzu.

RE­CLAIM­ING BLACK

The show ex­plores the black fe­male ex­pe­ri­ence from the per­spec­tive of two women, best friends Issa (Issa Rae) and Molly (Yvonne Orji). They’re in their 20s and are try­ing to move ahead in their ca­reers and love lives. Issa was in a long-term re­la­tion­ship with Lawrence (Jay El­lis) and is cur­rently ex­plor­ing life as a sin­gle girl who still yearns for love. Molly is a suc­cess­ful cor­po­rate at­tor­ney who has ca­reer suc­cess but dif­fi­culty with dat­ing men. In­se­cure is an orig­i­nal be­cause it doesn’t type­cast black women as ghetto chicks, or as power hun­gry, or as whole­some, long-suf­fer­ing housewives. In­stead, the show ex­plores and nor­malises the black fe­male ex­pe­ri­ence in a hu­mor­ous, if not raw, man­ner. So, black women can be fun, vul­ner­a­ble, am­bi­tious, awk­ward and sexy. In a re­cent in­ter­view with Rolling Stone mag­a­zine, Issa says: “In cre­at­ing and writ­ing the show, this is not for dudes. It’s not for white peo­ple. It’s the show that I imag­ined for my fam­ily and friends. That’s what I think of when I’m writ­ing the scenes. We are telling spe­cific sto­ries with a uni­ver­sal el­e­ment.”

She also had strong rea­sons for fo­cus­ing on the chal­lenges that sin­gle black women face on the dat­ing scene,

telling Glam­our US mag­a­zine: “We’re com­bat­ing be­ing un­de­sir­able. That’s a lot of the nar­ra­tive: that black women are un­de­sir­able. Ev­ery day an ath­lete or a rap­per says some­thing along the lines of, ‘that’s why I don’t date black women.’”

The show is so rel­e­vant, it even caught the at­ten­tion of for­mer US pres­i­dent Barack Obama. In the same in­ter­view with Glam­our US, Issa re­calls meet­ing the man. “I brought my mom to a party at the White House. She got to the front of the line and got a hug from him. Then I got in line with Yvonne. The pres­i­dent held my hand and said to Yvonne, ‘Oh, she’s hav­ing a good year!’ I was like, ‘The pres­i­dent knows me?’ We started scream­ing! He was like, ‘I love the show and the sound­track, and I love to see black women be­ing cre­ative.’ I walked away and col­lapsed to my knees.”

The show has just wrapped its sec­ond sea­son, and Issa re­cently an­nounced on so­cial me­dia that she’d signed on to do a third one. It’s all part of her quest to “be a pop cul­ture sta­ple. I want a place in the cul­ture. I want peo­ple to ref­er­ence this show and iden­tify with the char­ac­ters for years to come.”

HOW IT ALL BE­GAN

So who is the woman be­hind all this suc­cess? She was born JoIssa Rae Diop in Los An­ge­les. Her fa­ther, Ab­doulaye Diop, is a pae­di­atric doc­tor from Senegal and her mother, De­lyna, is a teacher from Louisiana. Issa is one of five chil­dren. The fam­ily lived in Dakar, Senegal for short while and later, her par­ents di­vorced when she was in high school. As a young­ster, the star says that the af­flu­ent neigh­bour­hood she grew up in aligned her “with things that aren’t con­sid­ered ‘black’, like the swim team and street hockey”. When she later at­tended a pre­dom­i­nantly black school, she says she was blasted for “act­ing white” and ini­tially found it hard to “fit into this ‘black­ness’ I was sup­posed to be”. It’s this awk­ward­ness that led Issa to grad­u­ate from Stanford Univer­sity with a ma­jor in African and African-Amer­i­can Stud­ies. She also at­tended the New York Film Academy.

Issa made a name for her­self by cre­at­ing a web se­ries on YouTube called Awk­ward Black Girl, which fol­lowed the highs and lows of a black woman who finds her­self in un­com­fort­able cir­cum­stances in love and at work. It went vi­ral. In­se­cure stems from this se­ries. She has gone on to cre­ate a YouTube plat­form that fea­tures con­tent pro­duced by black cre­atives. It has at­tracted more than 20 mil­lion views and 260 000 sub­scribers. As a re­sult of this on­line suc­cess, an­other of her dig­i­tally pro­duced shows, But­ter and

Brown, a cook­ing se­ries hosted by Seth Brun­dle and Les­lie Antonoff, was re­cently picked up by Amer­i­can TV chan­nel As­pire, founded by bas­ket­ball icon Magic John­son.

YOUNG ACHIEVER

Issa was just 28 when, to­gether with pro­ducer and ac­tor Larry Wil­more, she pitched the now Golden Globe nom­i­nated In­se­cure to HBO. Fol­low­ing its huge suc­cess, she’s ac­cu­mu­lated hon­ours ga­lore, mak­ing it onto Glam­our mag­a­zine’s 35 Un­der 35 list of achiev­ers, as well as Forbes’ 30 Un­der 30 and En­ter­tain­ment Weekly’s Break­ing Big lists. Rap­per Jay Z re­cently asked the ac­tress to ap­pear in his mu­sic video for hit track Moon­light. Her first book, The Mis­ad­ven­tures of Awk­ward Black Girl – a col­lec­tion of es­says in which Issa opens up about her strug­gle with not fit­ting in and not be­ing con­sid­ered black enough at times – made it onto the New York Times best­seller list.

With suc­cess there of­ten comes crit­i­cism. In­se­cure was re­cently lam­basted for show­ing peo­ple hav­ing sex with­out us­ing con­doms. View­ers voiced their con­cerns on Twit­ter. Issa re­sponded with a post of stills from the se­ries show­ing con­doms were out on the char­ac­ters’ bed­sides. She cap­tioned the post: “We tend to place con­doms in the back­grounds of scenes or im­ply them. But we hear you guys and will do bet­ter next sea­son.”

It seems there’s no stop­ping Issa. She has cre­ated a cul­tural phe­nom­e­non with In­se­cure and her cre­ativ­ity has led her into Hol­ly­wood’s in­ner cir­cle. On ac­cept­ing her Star Power award at the Black Girls Rock 2017 cer­e­mony in Au­gust, she said: “For a long time, I de­fined my­self by what I wasn’t. My life changed when I fo­cused on what I was, what I was good at, what I liked most about my­self and what made me stand out. Once I learned to like me more than oth­ers did, then I didn’t have to worry about be­ing the fun­ni­est or the most pop­u­lar or the pret­ti­est. I was the best me and I only ever tried to be that.”■

TOP TO BOT­TOM: CHAT­TING TO TREVOR NOAH, AND AC­CEPT­ING AN AWARD.

TOP TO BOT­TOM: ISSA WITH HER CO-STARS, AND HER BEST-SELL­ING BOOK.

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