Issa Rae is calling out the film and TV industry.
“I found that there has been a laziness in the industry,” the Emmy winner told Vulture. “Post–George Floyd, I got so many emails from people who were well-intentioned but were like, ‘Hey, I want to do better. Can you tell me some of the people you’ve worked with who you recommend?’ And I was like, ‘Bitch, go find them like I did! I found them! Do the work! Watch their shorts!'”
The multi-hyphenate showrunner inked a $40 million, five-year deal with WarnerMedia last year, but Rae reflected on the many barriers when she was first starting out.
“In college, I was trying to break into the industry. I had a writing partner, and we submitted scripts to Sundance. We became semifinalists,” Rae said. “We met with all these executives in L.A. to try to sell a film. And during that time, we were told that there wasn’t an audience for the work we were trying to put onscreen. I was like, ‘Yes, the fuck there is! I know the audience! I know people, and this is what I wanted to see.'”
The “Rap Sh!t” creator said, “It felt like a slap in the face to hear that when I knew it wasn’t true, when we were starving at the time.”
Rae began creating web series in 2007 with “an intention to try to get on TV, to get noticed” and show a proof of audience. “Even then, I still got the same thing trying to sell those TV shows,” Rae said of her web shows. “With ‘Dorm Diaries,’ it was, ‘College shows don’t really work.’ With ‘Fly Guys Present the “F” Word,’ it was a music-heavy show — there were rappers who did comedy — they were like, ‘They gotta pick a lane!’ And I was like, ‘But “Flight of the Conchords” exists! Y’all are not into them?’ And with ‘Awkward Black Girl,’ I was like, ‘These other two shows were commercial.’ You had an urban version of ‘Flight of the Conchords,’ and they don’t want that.”
Now, with the “Insecure” creator and star’s reign of the industry, Rae faces the assumption that if she’s “in a position of power…it’s easier for you to take chances.” And while that may be true, Rae clarified that she was “taking chances on people from the jump, because I want to win and come up with people, and there’s something validating about that, of knowing that people are as hungry as you are.”
Part of that hunger also harkens back to Rae’s drive to prove there is an audience for her work. As the TV landscape keeps changing, the ratings for streamers get more and more elusive.
“When I think about the different phases of television, the ’90s is what I mostly know. It was fueled by ratings, but at least creators had a measurement of how well their show was doing,” Rae said. “Now, I think data across the board is not yours. It’s hoarded. Do ratings matter or do they not? Do ratings matter right now? Can I get access to it? Am I writing to it?”
Rae added, “There’s a lot of confusion about how well creators are doing across the board, so that’s why you get creators surprised that their shows got canceled or their shows are getting pulled off the air, because they don’t have the information.”
Thankfully, Rae continues to stay true to herself: “I produce what I want to see on television. I produce what interests me. I produce for creators who I feel are talented.”