Issa Rae is one of the six names in entertainment being celebrated at the inaugural IndieWire Honors on Nov. 2. Her voice and creativity showcased on HBO’s “Insecure” has earned her the Vanguard Award for television.
The success of Issa Rae takes on even more symbolism right now. Her HBO comedy “Insecure” is the story of a young woman, living in the big city, and trying to figure it all out — while often getting it wrong. Rae said she realized that the obstacles that come with being a woman in this society couldn’t be ignored on her show either.
According to Rae, her show’s writing staff has been sharing and discussing the recent litany of stories about how the industry’s misogynistic culture allowed for high-profile figures to commit sexual harassment and assault, and the unfair pressure put on women in Hollywood.
“In our writers’ room it’s mostly comprised of women, and we were mostly sharing our own stories and realizing just how prevalent this is,” Rae said recently at a Hollywood Radio and Television Society panel. “Like, every single woman has a story. And it’s one of those things, as women we’re so used to sweeping things under the rug, like, ‘Oh I won’t make a big deal about it.’ Or because we are so used to it, feeling like you’re overreacting if you do speak up. That was a discussion, why is the onus constantly on us to speak out about it, or feel like we have to make a statement. It feels like this is something that happens too often to not address.”
As Hollywood burns, there’s hope for a reborn industry led by voices like Rae’s. The success of “Insecure,” which she both stars in and co-created, is the perfect example of what happens when new creative voices are invited to the table.
Rae called her show “Insecure” for a reason: She was looking to create an honest portrayal of what it’s like when you haven’t yet figured your life out. Even Rae, despite her very public successes, doesn’t like to say she’s “made” it just yet. “It’s always a moving goal post,” she said. “I definitely acknowledge the score along the way. I just don’t think I’m close to winning the game anytime soon.”
Rae’s path to success took about a decade; she first came to notoriety with her webseries “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” which ran for two seasons. “I just thought it was great,” said Larry Wilmore, who created “Insecure” with Rae. “So much potential in it. It was very quiet, present day, and a lot of observational comedy. I thought it was fascinating and so much fun to watch.”
Part of the star’s relatability comes via mining story ideas from the every day world. “I always find inspiration in the other stuff I consume. I look for things that make me literally go, ‘Oooooo! That’s gonna be good’ — which seems like common sense, but I’m a very visceral person,” she said. “I love to be excited about things. But then other random things will inspire me, like reading Fast Company articles or different songs, or hearing stories from Lyft drivers. I will draw inspiration from anywhere as long as I open up myself to receive it.”
Anne Marie Fox/HBO
Having first launched in 2016, “Insecure’s” role as a show about blackness — just normal, everyday blackness, not the stereotypical or cliche coolness or struggle of such — stood out from moment one. It was something Rae had been saying since the beginning: “We’re just trying to convey that people of color are relatable. This is not a hood story. This is about regular people living life.”
Since then, it’s only grown in critical acclaim. IndieWire’s Steve Greene called its second season HBO’s “best show right now.” and Ben Travers wrote that the sophomore season worked as a “stronger follow-up year.”
Both “Awkward Black Girl” and “Insecure” have been lauded for their attention to oft-unspoken (in mainstream television and film) and underrepresented realities of life for every day people of color. It’s a topic Issa Rae cares deeply about, even if she’s just in attendance at the Emmys and making sure to let the red carpet interviewers know she’s “rooting for everybody black.”
While she accepts and considers herself privileged to get the chance to tell certain stories, Rae acknowledges that there are still so many creative topics in the entertainment industry that aren’t getting enough attention right now. “Afro-futurism” is something Rae wishes would get its time to shine: “Sci-Fi stories (that aren’t existing franchises like Star Wars) about people of color.”
With writing for season three of Insecure now underway, Rae also continues to expand her world beyond the show, including joining the cast of the upcoming feature adaptation of “The Hate U Give.” Wilmore called her a “mini Oprah,” and that may not be too far from the plan.
“I’m working on creating other shows, working on writing movies; trying to be in other projects that I have nothing to do with, creatively,” Rae said. “I want to have a studio, a network, a music division, a political arm — so many things. There is nothing else I’d rather do — whether I’m telling the stories myself or helping someone I’m a fan of tell their own stories, I am truly blessed.”
IndieWire Honors is presented by Vizio and DTS with premier support from Harold Ramis Film School at The Second City.