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Writer, di­rec­tor and pro­ducer Issa Rae is part of a new gen­er­a­tion of black vi­sion­ar­ies com­ing out of Hol­ly­wood who are telling un­apolo­get­i­cally black nar­ra­tives. We caught up with the Emmy-nom­i­nated star and cre­ator of HBO’s hit series, In­se­cure, on her

Destiny - - Contents - BY Ntombenhle Shezi, Clau­dia Pa­day­achy & In­grid Wood

Over a decade ago, young Rae was des­per­ately try­ing to break into the film and TV in­dus­try, sub­mit­ting scripts to com­pe­ti­tions and try­ing to sell movies and series to Hol­ly­wood ex­ec­u­tives who con­stantly told her there were no au­di­ences for “these types of sto­ries”. While study­ing at Stan­ford Univer­sity, USA, Rae thought of cre­at­ing a mock­u­men­tary called Dorm Di­aries, fo­cused on the ex­pe­ri­ence of black stu­dents like her­self. “Back then, I was also on Face­book a lot and thought it would be cool to cast my friends in a web series that I could post. I knew my friends would share it be­cause they’re vain!” she laughs.

She shot the film us­ing her own equip­ment, in­spired by shows like A Dif­fer­ent World and The Of­fice. It soon spread to other uni­ver­si­ties and Ivy League col­leges, draw­ing a size­able au­di­ence, af­ter which Rae had an epiphany. “I thought: ‘Wow! I cre­ated this from scratch, put it di­rectly out there and no-one could tell me that I couldn’t do it, or that there wouldn’t be an au­di­ence for it, be­cause I had di­rect ac­cess to one.’”

By the time she made The Mis­ad­ven­tures of an Awk­ward Black Girl, she’d learnt ma­jor lessons from the con­tent she’d pre­vi­ously cre­ated and was no longer try­ing to cre­ate for TV ex­ec­u­tives, but purely for her bur­geon­ing on­line au­di­ence. “Pre­vi­ously, I was pitch­ing to peo­ple who kept telling me that what I was do­ing wouldn’t work. The Mis­ad­ven­tures of an Awk­ward Black Girl was when peo­ple started hit­ting me up, in­clud­ing the ex­ecs,” she re­calls. HBO was one of the net­works which ap­proached her to cre­ate an orig­i­nal show.

Rae’s ca­reer has blos­somed at a time when many other peo­ple of colour are be­hind the resur­gence of TV series with pre­dom­i­nantly black casts, such as Ava DuVer­nay’s Queen Sugar, Lena Waithe’s The Chi, Mara Brook Akil’s Be­ing Mary Jane and, of course, Shonda Rhimes.

Rae’s hit show, In­se­cure, has just wrapped up its third sea­son and has ac­quired a large fol­low­ing over the past three years among mil­len­ni­als the world over. She says it draws on the real-life ex­pe­ri­ences of her­self and her friends, with the char­ac­ter of Molly (played by Yvonne Oriji) based on her real-life best friend.

“I knew of Yvonne be­fore we were friends be­cause I’d seen a funny clip of hers that was cir­cu­lat­ing on­line in 2008 and added her as a friend on Face­book. When In­se­cure was se­lected for a pi­lot, I could think of no-one bet­ter to au­di­tion for the role of Molly,” she says.

The show’s gar­nered wide­spread praise for its vis­ual and sen­sory lan­guage and for each episode, Rae works closely with mu­sic su­per­vi­sor Kier Lehman in pro­vid­ing the sound­track.

HBO re­cently an­nounced a fourth series of In­se­cure for 2019. In ad­di­tion, Rae co-starred in The Hate U Give, along­side Amandla Stein­berg, and is work­ing on a movie ti­tled Lit­tle, with Mar­sai Martin of Black-ish, in­spired by Tom Hanks’ clas­sic Big.

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