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Woman to Watch: Actress-Writer-Producer Tracy Oliver

Woman to Watch: Actress-Writer-Producer Tracy Oliver

Last weekend, the latest installment of the “Barbershop” franchise opened. “Barbershop: The Next Cut” has already grossed over $20 million. The comedy was co-written by Tracy Oliver, an actress-writer-producer who is making her mark on-screen and behind-the-scenes. 

You might recognize Oliver from her role as J in “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.” She also wrote and produced the web series alongside creator and star Issa Rae. Since then, Oliver has worked on Amazon’s “The Neighbors” and the seriously underrated Starz family drama “Survivor’s Remorse.” 

In an interview with The Root, Oliver spoke about how she and Rae connected. They met as students at Stanford, who “were always auditioning against each other.” “We were always the black girls waiting to find out who got the part,” Oliver recalled. She said that after some time, they decided to take matters into their own hands and team up “[i]nstead of being competitive against each other for that one part.” They collaborated on projects where a number of people of color would be cast. 

Together they wrote, produced, directed and acted in productions at Stanford, and after graduation, Rae called Oliver to tell her about a premise for a new show — “Awkward Black Girl.” “I loved the idea,” said Oliver.

Oliver explained, “[W]e knew that if we tried to pitch it to people no one would buy it because they wouldn’t understand it. It was one of those things you had to execute and put out there and prove there was an audience for it.”

When asked how doing it for themselves empowered the women, Oliver responded, “We changed the landscape of comedy, we really did, doing it ourselves.” She emphasized that “the landscape was so white” and there “was nothing for people of color on the air” — a “really cold climate.” So the pair “knew that if [they] tried to convince people that there’s an audience for something that’s like a black Tina Fey or a black Zooey Deschanel” — a character who was “quirky and nerdy and fun” — they wouldn’t find much success. 

“The crazy thing about the Internet age is that you can bypass the gatekeepers of Hollywood and go directly to the people,” observed Oliver, who called the reception to the series “kind of surreal.” The viral sensation was reported on by major publications and viewed by millions of people within months. “We were getting better numbers than some cable shows online, and that was pretty crazy because we were doing it ourselves,” she said.

Oliver’s upcoming projects include a Fox dance drama with Misty Copeland and a film she describes as “‘The Hangover’ meets ‘Bridesmaids.'” Read more details at The Root, where Oliver also shares why showcasing black women in her work is so important, and personal to her. Also be sure to check out an essay the multi-talented Oliver wrote for Cosmo about why she’ll no longer defend her choice to write about black women. 

[via The Root

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