Awkward, but still black: Issa Rae tells her story

YouTube and HBO star Issa Rae discussed her rise on the Internet, her future ventures, and much more in an interview led by E! News correspondent Zuri Hall.

Had it not been for Issa Rae’s prodigious talent for catfishing at the ripe age of 11, it’s possible that HBO’s new hit series Insecure would not exist. According to the 32-year-old star of the show, her internet fascination began through an innocent trolling of sorts.

“I’m black just by being black.”
Issa Rae

“I was a thirsty middle schooler,” Rae said. “But online I was poppin’.”

Rae discussed her early experiences with the internet, studying at Stanford University, and how awkward she was when she met Drake– among other things– Friday night at Goldstein Auditorium. The event was hosted by University Union, with the interview led by E! News correspondent Zuri Hall.

Rae has since turned in her title of catfish and replaced it with: best-selling author, writer and Golden Globe-nominated actress. For Rae, it was clear from an early age that she liked to explore her creativity online.

This began with a YouTube mini-series she produced in her time at Stanford University called Dorm Diaries about the black experience on college campuses, and the eventual series that gained widespread recognition Awkward Black Girl.

“I remember Facebook and YouTube came out my sophomore year, and during my senior year, I created Dorm Diaries about what it was like to be black at Stanford. The first video got around 150,000 views before I made it private, but there were students from all over the country watching and engaging,” Rae said.

After graduation, Rae began to create more content focused on the black woman experience in America. Growing up in Maryland and California exposed Rae to both predominantly white and black communities, yet she stated that both black and white peers alike revoked her “black card”. So she challenged this with her work.

“I’m black just by being black,” Rae said.

With her identity being questioned and constantly examined, Rae channeled the awkward moments of her life through the creation of Awkward Black Girl.

According to Rae, the series began with many limitations due to the lack of budget and of course, the magic of HBO. However, despite these minor setbacks, the series resonated with thousands of people. So much so, that the second season of the show was produced by artist Pharrell Williams, and later caught the attention of acclaimed TV producer and creator Shonda Rhimes.

However, Rae’s trajectory toward success did not come easily. She discussed the rejections she received from production companies when she sent out her script, the possible series Rhimes attempted to create with her which got rejected by the network, and overall the struggle of being a “broke” artist. Yet Rae only allowed these setbacks to fuel her comeback.  

“Sometimes you have to leave a project for some time and revisit it later. It’s not giving up or abandoning work. When I pitched the first show with Shonda, I didn’t yet know what it was that I wanted to create,” Rae said.

Just two months after her first pitch to a network fell through, Rae received a call from HBO, and thus came Insecure.

Rae gave the audience and creators alike, advice on how to succeed in the industry, stressing that in a vacuum full of competing voices, it’s important to understand how one’s own story is unique to them. She later related this to her show Insecure, stating that it does not speak for all black women, it depicts the experience of one black women, but it still resonates with a collective experience.

Rae is currently working on the second season of Insecure set for release on July 23, as well as co-starring in the upcoming drama-comedy Empress of Serenity with comedian Bill Hader. 

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