Issa Rae first black woman to create and star in a premium cable series

‘I remember seeing a regular black love story and wanting to be a part of that.’

I put up the first episode of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl on Feb. 3, 2011, and saw that it was surpassing the other two web series that I had done within the first day. It kept growing, and people were reaching out and saying, “This is me. This is my experience. I love this.”

Hearing that positive feedback from black girls, black guys and then everyone else was an “aha” moment: they’re relating to black people, at the end of the day. But I still get responses from people who think that because I have a show about two black women, I have to represent all black women. Obviously, we’re not a monolith—we’re not trying to be the end-all, be-all for black women’s experiences in the United States.

I want to create characters that people can relate to. For so long, entertainment executives have said the reason they don’t cast people of color is that they’re not relatable onscreen. It’s such a segregationist mentality, and I always knew that it was false. The first time I saw a movie that I felt related to me fully and sparked a feeling in me of wanting to create was Love and Basketball. I remember seeing a regular black love story and wanting to be a part of that, wanting to create that myself. I always credit ’90s culture: Martin, Living Single, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Seeing a diverse representation of creators influenced me and made me feel like I could do this.

There’s so much subtlety in the sexism and racism in this industry that you either have to call it out and risk being shunned, or move past it and find your own entryway. I’m definitely in the latter category. I put my blinders up and ignore it: “Nope! I’m going to do it anyway or find another way in.”

Rae is the author of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and stars on HBO’s Insecure, which she created.

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