Creator, writer and producer of the hit web-series The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl and HBO’s Insecure, Issa Rae, recently flew to Johannesburg for the inaugural In Good Company Experience. Founded by Jabu Gwala and hosted by Nomzamo Mbatha, the experience was a women-centered dialogue that saw a range of talks by celebrities and major corporates like Google, in an effort to inspire women in various sectors. We caught up with the Issa Rae, and she shared her thoughts on failure, progress and paving the way for others.
If at first you don’t succeed, try again
Over a decade ago at the age of 21, Issa Rae was trying to break into the television industry, by submitting scripts into competitions and trying to sell movies and series' to executives who constantly told her that there was no audience for the stories that she was trying to tell. By the time she created Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl, she had stopped trying to create for the television executives, but rather chose to focus on her internet audience, and that is when different people, including the execs, started paying attention. When HBO reached out to her to start developments on her show, it would take three years and eight script re-writes, among other things, before the pilot was approved. “No one likes no’s. Especially when you feel like you’re meant to do something. This is all that I wanted to do. So to hear, ‘no you can’t do it’, for me I just didn’t believe it,” she said.
Failure is not final
When asked about how she deals with failure, Rae mentioned that she does not have a relationship with the concept at all. Before HBO approached her, Rae had developed a pilot for ABC called I Hate LA Dudes, which ended up not being successful. “I got lost in the pressure of thinking that this is my one chance to make a TV show and was not confident, so for me that was devastating”. A month later HBO called her. Now Rae sees herself as an eternal optimist, believing that even if a project does not work out, it was not meant to be for that particular moment and can be reincarnated at a later stage.
Progress is important
Although Insecure has been approved for a fourth season and continues to gain major popularity, Rae believes the show is already in the middle of its meta-narrative. “I think we’re very much talking about a series where these characters, you see their journey to change over time. If Issa and Molly are the same when you first saw them to even now and to what will be the end of the series, then we failed. We just want to show an incremental journey. I want to mirror kind of my own experience, cause I’m definitely not who I was when I was 29 or when I was 25. It’s a constant growth process.”
Trust your collaborators
On this production Rae is working with a bigger team than she had when she was producing her web series independently. Rae described HBO as being pretty much hands off when it came to the actual story and cultural references, but very involved with great input and story notes when it comes to the technical details. “If they don’t understand something they don’t ask, they just trust that this is our experience and I have always admired them for that. It’s a beautiful collaboration”, she says. She also feels the same about her co-writers, who although all come from different backgrounds and are writing through Issa’s voice, she highly respects for their experience and what they bring to the table.
On opening doors for people of colour.
When talking about the resurgence of a number of black centered shows and narratives, in the last few years, Rae emphasized the importance of opening the door for other people of colour. “We are now telling and producing our own stories, which means we are also behind the scenes. This enables us to produce opportunities for other people of colour. For we know that if we don’t open up opportunities, then this will be a passing moment”.
*Catch Insecure on 1Magic, Mondays at 11pm