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LIFESTYLE & ENTERTAINMENT

Insecure's brutal honesty about Black millennials is a cultural shift

The show holds nothing back with its unadulterated portrayal of turbulence around friendships, casual sex, the social dilemma of being the token black
Thu, Sep 10, 2020
  • MAIN IMAGE: 'Insecure' cast. Credit: HBO 

Thinking back, there were many shows in my early 20s which I could relate to, as well as connect to the characters, their experiences and their development; HBO had a knack for putting these out. The characters from Girls immediately come to mind. They did not look or sound like me, but they were the closest thing to my suburban experience of growing up. This was followed by my varsity stint in Cape Town that exposed me to a wider variety of personalities and paths similar to mine.

(Enter Insecure).

I am thrown back to a period in its early seasons when its creator Issa Rae was criticised online, along with the likes of fellow black creatives Donald Glover and Jessica Williams, for curating stories that presented a certain kind of black person to cater to a white audience.

While it opens a larger discussion about whether shows like Insecure only represent the kind of black people who grew up in privileged, white suburbs, over the seasons, Insecure has managed to show the ways in which this narrative is specific to the experience of black millennials in different parts of the world. It is this disconnect from the culture as a whole that is the driving force behind wanting to become more knowledgeable about black history and the black experience as we grow older and immerse ourselves in spaces that give us the room to do so.

The series follows creator and lead actress Rae, who plays the character Issa, as she navigates life, love and figuring out her career path as her 20s come to an end. Much like many of our experiences, it is an unclear path and there are many moments in which the characters feel stuck and juggle issues ranging from cheating, to ghosting, to shared living spaces, young marriage and even postpartum depression. In the beginning, Issa is a struggling creative working at a non-profit that caters to public schools – a job that she later grows to resent as the only black woman in that space with very little influence.

Her partner at the time is unemployed and that aspect is taking a toll on their relationship, while her best friend is a successful lawyer who cannot keep a man for long enough to develop a healthy relationship.

In later seasons we experience the turbulence and the casualness around relationships ending; friendships being tested by the progression of characters in the circle; sleeping on the couch of the man you’re sleeping with while he brings other women home because you have not quite established what the two of you are doing; and pretty much all of the weird and wonderful elements that come with black millennial culture.

While much of the experience is comedic and at many points bizarre, the series offers us an opportunity to have our own bizarre realities mirrored back at us. It offers a gaze into the relationships we have with ourselves (see Issa’s mirror freestyles), as well as the relationships we have with our peers, parents and partners.

We also see the various ways in which the token black person is treated in vastly different environments through Issa, Lawrence and Molly’s work lives. There is a reason why we were able to log on every Monday and drag Molly for being an unsupportive and selfish friend because we have all been exposed to a Molly of our own at some point. We watched men online become furious when Daniel was “an itch [Issa] needed to scratch”; we then watched them celebrate when Lawrence got his money up.

There is a character or a story in every season that has proven to be the universal story of the black millennial. It is for this reason that as the series has progressed over the years, and there is visible growth within the characters and indeed within ourselves.

Insecure has successfully managed to shift the parameters around the kind of black characters we get to see, experience and relate to. The Emmy-nominated series is a result of giving black creatives enough room to tell stories that accurately portray what it feels like to navigate through (read: trip and fall through) our 20s. From the dialogue, to the visuals, to the now famous Insecure soundtrack, the loose plot allows much of the series to be left up to how you relate to the culture and the regular black characters.

  • Insecure is available to stream on Showmax

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