Issa Rae's Story & The Importance Of YOUR Black Girl Story
"If you win, another Issa wins. And another, and another." Those were the words from Prentice Penny to Issa Rae at the conclusion of their initial meeting. Who are these you people you ask? Well Penny is a showrunner who's worked on shoes like Scrubs. He is also the person who'll now be the showrunner for HBO's new comedy show "Insecure", starring and co-authored by Issa Rae.
Issa Rae may be a familiar name to those who frequent social media, as she's behind the YouTube show "The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl", a show she wrote, directed, and starred in, which went viral and garnered over 20 million views. Her internet fame and success got the attention of producers who wanted to adapt a version of the show for TV. But ultimately because none of the versions held true to the character Rae wanted depicted, nothing came of it. "They wanted to make it as broad as possible, broadly niche, but I was like: No, that’s not what this is about,’’ Rae tells a New York Times writer.
This is a huge lesson in staying true to your vision, and not letting any amount of money dangled in your face allow you to compromise your story. 'Mainstream" or not, there is always someone out there who is waiting for your authentic story, no matter how crazy it may be. Rae (born Jo-Issa Rae Diop), who's mother is from Louisiana and father is from Senegal, partially grew up in a predominantly caucasian Maryland neighbourhood where her access to black culture was popular TV shows back then, like Living Single, A Different World, and In Living Colour. How funny is it that across the Atlantic, in Stockholm, Sweden, this was the reality of an African-Swedish girl, me, too?! TV was my access to black culture, and this blog is an extension of my interest and desire to immerse deeper into it by finding positive image portrayals of black women. Rae's characters in both "Insecure" and "The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl" are loosely based on her experience and life, making the importance to remain true to the story all that more important.
Rae realized she had the talent of portraying the everyday black life when her low-budget mockumentary series, "Dorm Life", about student life at Stanford (again, loosely based on her life) posted on Facebook, garnered success not only her campus, but others like Georgetown and Harvard as well. ‘‘It was a light bulb, my epiphany moment,’’ she says.
Rae had planned to pitch the the series to MTV or BET, when one night, thieves broke into her apartment and stole her laptops, camera, and all of her tapes, thousands worth of equipment. Her scripts and pitch reel meant for MTV and BET were also stolen. I can't even imagine a more disheartening feeling. We all know student life doesn't equal the rich life, so I'm sure replacing all that equipment wasn't going to come easy. Even more so the scripts! Imagine the feeling, after having spent hours upon hours of writing a school essay, and out of nowhere your work gets deleted. Yea...that feeling, but worse, cause this could've been your big break, not to mention, someone violated your private property. I feel ways when someone scrolls through all my pictures on my phone, when I only meant for them to look at one picture, lol. My home??!!
But because God is an awesome God, the bible says:
It was in this moment of despair that Rae, upon drawing in her journal, that she inscribed the words "I'm awkward. And Black". It's these words, and how they contradicted the black women generally portrayed on film and TV, that spoke to Rae. And the rest as they say, is history. The YouTube show took off, and now she's working on the HBO show. There's another scripture that comes to mind, the book of Romans says "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Rom 8:28 ESV). Rae is obviously in her purpose when you consider that she didn't even major in screenwriting, acting, or anything film related, but actually African-American studies. She's just a girl who had a story to tell, and the confirmation came as people were able to relate and enjoy what she shared.
[Related: Why Writing Your Truth Is So Important]
The same holds true for everyone out there who has a story to share. Don't be afraid to share it! It may be awkward, it may be quirky, it may be unconventional, irregardless, it your story to tell. To help you along the way Rae as co-founded a digital platform called Color Creative, where she helps produce and find funding for minority writers' web shows. She started the organization as a result of her own difficulties in pitching networks and says ‘‘I don’t ever want it to be just me. That is the worst feeling, to be alone, because then all the pressure is on you. People expect you to be the voice of everyone.’’ So I implore you, please, whatever your story, your voice matters, so take advantage of social media, as I've said countless times, and put yourself out there. Taking it back to the beginning, as said to Rae, "If you win, another Issa (Lisa, Shonda, Gina, Terry) wins. And another, and another."