Issa Rae's journey from YouTuber to industry queenmaker is inspiring and should be recognized. A master class in putting people on and opening the door wider once you get in, Issa has leveraged her success as a showrunner, leading lady, producer, and writer into a gatekeeping role in the entertainment industry.
So how did it come to be?
Issa Rae graduated from Stanford majoring in African-American Studies with a minor in Political Science, and worked multiple jobs and freelance work until she created her first series, centered around comedy that came from true lived experience. Her web-series Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl was centered around an awkward, insecure version of herself, dealing with guys, microaggressions at work, and finding the confidence to deal with it all. The show's strength was always its realness, authenticity, and portraying Black life as more than the monolith that Hollywood has always made it out to be.
As popular as Awkward Black Girl was, its reach extended only as far as YouTube's algorithms would take it. In time, Issa's series would be reached by Larry Wilmore, a huge name in Black television, and a producer and showrunner behind shows such as The Bernie Mac Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Office, and even a writer for In Living Color. After reaching out to Issa, they worked to create Insecure on HBO, a higher budget 45-minute series to expand on the characters and themes of Awkward Black Girl. Insecure became a smash hit, garnering four Emmys, loyal fans, and Twitter feuds over which character is a better match for Issa. Insecure expands on Awkward Black Girl's and multifaceted portrayals of Black women and men, showing not the hyper-aggressive or hypersexualized caricatures that Hollywood tends to present or the perfect, flawless, Black excellence idols that we are meant to look up to. Issa's characters are flawed, aimless, righteous, determined, desperate, proper, brash, passionate and cold. In short, they are real people, they could be your best friends, and when the show finally ends, it does feel like letting somebody close go. A great thing about Insecure is that even behind the scenes there were opportunities granted. Before shooting, Issa hosted a contest to find two P.A.s (Production Assistants) per season, from anywhere in the country, allowing people outside Hollywood's influence to gain film industry jobs and a chance to work on an HBO series.
From the success of Insecure, Issa has begun the foundations for a media empire, as she now owns her own production company, Hoorae Media, as well as a revolutionary record label, The Raedio, an "audio everywhere" company which, separate from traditional label duties, offers services in "music supervision, publishing, live events, and a comprehensive audio library." In collaboration with Google, The Raedio has created The Raedio Creators Program Supported by Google. A contest whose goal, stated on their website is to "support women who are emerging artists and composers by providing access to funding, mentorship, creative and business resources, a pipeline to Raedio’s TV & Film projects and our label and distribution services for their release.”
They select two female artists and two composers, who then receive label backing, studio time, marketing, the whole label experience, but with none of the predatory percentages that traditional music labels take out of your pocket. The end goal being to highlight female artists in an industry that is harsh to them. Raedio already has signed artists like Baby Tate and TeaMarr, who authored the first Raedio released single, Kinda Love.
All in all, Issa's success should be something to follow for others in positions of power, a door was opened for her, and when she had her chance, she let so many others through. Supporting and uplifting your community with career opportunities can sometimes go a lot further than just throwing money at a problem. Issa's work has and will continue to change the industry for the better.
Written by Max Olarinde, @mobeige1 on all socials.