Issa Rae is one of those talents that currently has a niche following, but is on the cusp of being a full-blown celebrity. As someone who is constantly browsing various videos, articles and miscellaneous links sent my way, I am always telling anyone who will listen that there are so many interesting web series online—you just need to look! They are typically quirky and don't resemble anything you find on cable television, a blessing to those of us who don't always relate or connect with cable programs. When I came across Rae's web series The Missadventures of Awkward Black Girl (MABG), I was hooked. The series follows "J", the lead character that is loosely based on Rae, through her random drama and various relationships; it is witty and well-written. Shortly after graduating from Stanford, Rae says she created MABG because there was nothing like it on television. The series features a black lead and many of the supporting roles are also played by black actors, but look elsewhere if you are attracted to the stereotypes flaunted through most sitcom characters or the so-called "everyday folk" cast in reality series.
From an early age, Rae knew that she had very little in common with what it meant to be black—if you go by the media and Hollywood's definition, that is. It's hard to admit, but many of the images and messages the general public is force-fed when it comes to blackness are not only incredibly inaccurate, but often, very negative. Rae freely admits that she can't dance, is a major comedy nerd who was always very bright (she graduated from an Ivy League school, after all), and as per the title of her inaugural series, is incredibly ackward in most social situations. These are all traits that society tells us is not black and therefore, Rae—and others, like myself, who can relate to being untypical—is meant to feel like she doesn't belong to an identity that is, in fact, her own and not the static list of characteristics drafted by a television executive who has had his arm twisted and inserts exactly one black character into a series to add just enough flavour for the show to be considered diverse.
Rae has caught my attention because she is working hard to prove that the sweetest success stories are from individuals who celebrate what makes them different. Shortly after MABG was getting praise from loyal viewers, networks tried to entice Rae to sell her show but she refused to let go after they insisted she make major changes to help it appeal to a wider audience (this is merely code to replace the black actors with white alternatives). Rae stood her ground and ended up receiving almost $60,000 from a Kickstarter campaign and later garnered support from mega music producer and artist Pharrell Williams, who fell in love with her series and agreed to fund a second season. She is now developing a variety of content on her YouTube channel and will be co-writing a comedy series that will be featured on HBO. Rae is talented and her authenticity is completely refreshing. I leave you with an interview she did with Amanda de Cadenet of The Conversation—another online series that I adore.
Issa Rae is someone to watch.