In 2013, Issa Rae landed an HBO deal based on the success of her immensely popular web series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. Yet three years later, her fans are still waiting. The problem is that White Hollywood executives, who are in the majority, and who don’t identify with Rae’s experiences, want to rewrite her vision into something that it’s not. In today’s New York Times profile, she opened up about some of the issues she has faced.
Here’s a snippet:
Rae recalls a phone conversation with a network executive who wanted to make it into a pan-racial franchise operation, starting with ‘‘Awkward Indian Boy.’’ Another suggested Rae recast the lead with a lighter-skinned actress with long, straight hair — in essence, the exact opposite of Rae. She turned down the offers.
‘‘They wanted to make it as broad as possible, broadly niche, but I was like: No, that’s not what this is about,’’ she says.
Insecure had the benefit of having Larry Wilmore attached to the project. He and Rae spent a month hammering out the direction of show. He says:
“I asked her what was going on in her life, what’s important to her, her sex life, what she thinks about, and we built the show out of that. She had the ideas for characters, and we created a world around them.’’
Rae’s other promising project was a series for ABC titled I Hate L.A. Dudes, under Shonda Rhimes’ production company. But the script kept getting crushed under the weight of edits. Rae says, “I compromised my vision, and it didn’t end up the show that I wanted. It wasn’t funny anymore.’’
Another problem that Issa Rae opened up about was that she was having issues hiring people of color for her projects even when she sought them out. In Rae’s eyes, lack of diversity in writers’ rooms makes it hard to develop complex characters of color on-screen.
Her solution to that problem is Color Creative, a digital platform she co-founded where she helps writers of color produce and find funding for their web shows, and offers them a platform to showcase their work.
‘‘I don’t ever want it to be just me, ever,’’ she says. ‘‘That is the worst feeling, to be alone, because then all the pressure is on you. People expect you to be the voice of everyone.’’
Despite the hiccups with The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Rae is working on another pilot for HBO tentatively titled, Insecure, that seems to be closer to actually airing. It’s about a woman who is about to turn 30 who is wrestling with the onset of her delayed adulthood. Rae will star as the lead character. A script has been approved, but Rae still found that hiring a staff of color was hard because HBO’s executives weren’t interested. According to an HBO spokesperson who gave comment, HBO is more interested in hiring people with experience. Despite that setback, because the TV world is notoriously slow anyway, the production is moving forward. Prentice Penny, a Black showrunner with experience on shows like Scrubs, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a candidate who will potentially work with Rae to shape Insecure.
In the meantime, we’ll have to keep waiting.
Let Hollywood execs tell it, all Black women either look like Precious or Beyonce, and are stories are always about abject poverty and struggle.
Props to Issa Rae for fighting such a frustrating battle.
Issa Rae’s HBO Pilot Is Still In Limbo As Hollywood Fails To Get Her Brand was originally published on hellobeautiful.com