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Anything is possible for awkward black girls

From her web series to the on-screen success of Insecure, Issa Rae’s stratospheric rise proves that eccentric black girls can make the impossible happen on social media
Fri, Oct 22, 2021

I don’t know how much you believe in Mercury retrogrades, but the technological hell that many of us seemed to be in during the last week of September is proof that astrology may be real. All this to say, the chokehold it had on me refused for me to get anything working or where it needed to be but now, I actually appreciate that it did.

What started as an ode to writer, actor and producer Issa Rae has turned into exactly that. I have ended up spending the past few days studying even more of her catalogue than I initially intended to, and I’d like to take you on this journey where I give this awkward black girl her flowers.

With the new and final season of Insecure returning to our screens on 24 October it feels important that I take a moment to appreciate what Issa Rae has done for contemporary Black women in what I believe will have a ripple effect all over the world.

Insecure is a show that will go down with the legacy of changing how Black women are represented on our TV screens. It presents our lived experiences in a way that does not feel exaggerated or overly sexualised. It offers us a lens through which we can see so many aspects of our professional, romantic and platonic lives, to analyse not only ourselves but the relationships around us. I remember getting to season 4 for and being reminded that the character Molly is the kind of friend I absolutely do not want in my life – to which many people agree.

This is a good example of the cultural impact of the series – one that extends beyond the borders of our screens and social media. Having gone back to study just how this came about shows me that even when she had no idea where the path was taking her, there was a certainty and sophistication about how she wanted Black women represented on screen, and from that moment on, what she has accomplished today is truly remarkable.

Just last year, the internet was abuzz when word dropped that streaming platforms would be bringing back some fan favourite sitcoms from the ‘90s and 2000s – a time when many of us were too young to relate to characters on screen. Among those shows was Moesha, and for the sake of giving you your fun fact for the day, this sitcom is what pushed Rae into a career in comedy.

In 1996, she sat in the live studio audience which led to a string of events that had her writing skits thereafter. She did so on a smaller scale at church with something called The Young and Arrested, to which her pastor gave her a co-sign about her gift. Fast forward to her studies at Stanford University, she felt, as many of us do when we go to these White dominated institutions – out of place and underrepresented.

More than that, reality TV was also on the rise during this period and it was the way the Black women on Flavor of Love were represented that gave her the ick because it was not indicative of the women she knew in her spaces and yet these were the prominent ones on screen. In many ways, this was the beginning of what would become a career and legacy of what I’ll now coin Black Women Reputation Management.

What followed from this was a web series called Dorm Diaries which went viral and from that, her next web series Awkward Black Girl also took off (it is still available on YouTube). Both of these were about her Standford experience and exactly like the title suggests, how she felt like an awkward black girl in predominantly white spaces.

Through this, Rae became the epitome of her next move being better than her last even when there was no way to anticipate how the material would take off. What was clear throughout was her vision. She notes that shows like 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm allowed her to fill in the gaps that were missing as far as the genre and the Black girl who definitely exists just not on screen. What began as a career out of talking sh*t has given us what Insecure is today.

Looking back on season 1, Rae’s character (named after her) is what appears to be ridiculous in the sense that she is arguably too old to be stepping on her own foot and making the choices she does in her 20s.

Why are you cheating on the boyfriend you live with when you know the job you already hate isn’t stable and your creative ambitions at that point are looking exactly like that – a dream.

What exactly is her plan? Is this starting to sound oddly familiar? To me, it sounds exactly like my 20s as I approach the end of them. I haven’t had a solid plan and I’ve been winging 80% of the process so to go back and watch it again now, years down the line, is the proof in the pudding that she got the formula right.

Here is someone who not only represents my lived experience but presents a hope that I will be absolutely fine. After more seasons of turbulence, winging it, heartbreaks and creative pursuits, Issa’s character has developed so much as a woman – one who I have come to not only appreciate but respect.

She has, through her on screen life and off-screen success, shown me that anything is possible, and real-life spoiler alert: your dreams are valid. Who would’ve thunk?

So, if much like me, you happen to have the time to go back before the new season is upon us, go back to seasons 1-4 of Insecure available for streaming on Showmax and find your character and hopefully, your lust to try again. With even more accolades under her belt in the past decade, she has not only shifted the culture, but taken advantage of her social platforms and networks to do so – creating content which uplifts the next regular and awkward black girl.

  • Insecure seasons 1-4 are available to stream on Showmax