Issa Rae is best known as the creator of the YouTube web series Awkward Black Girl, and since its premiere, Rae has developed her own digital platform where she not only features her own work, but she curates and develops content for and created by people of color. Rae’s shows have garnered over 20 million views and over 200,000 subscribers on YouTube.
In 2013, she began working on a comedy series pilot with Larry Wilmore about the awkward experiences of a contemporary African-American woman, in which she will be starring, titled Insecure. HBO picked up the pilot in early 2015 and it was subsequently greenlit, scheduled for a fall 2016 release.
Issa has previously spoken about the challenges she faced in convincing TV networks that Black people are relatable. During the “Insecure” panel discussion at the HBO portion of the 2016 Television Critics Association Summer Tour in Beverly Hills, EUR/Electronic Urban Report asked Rae why her marriage with HBO is a good fit for her brand.
“A lot of my journey has had some ups and downs of, like, okay, this isn’t a show exclusively about, like, the struggle of being Black. It’s not the — you know, it’s not a hood story. It’s not any of those things. It’s just regular Black people living life,” she said.
“HBO has been great about letting us cast who we want to cast; letting us behind the scenes, hire who we want to hire, and even getting the amazing Prentice Penny, our showrunner, who has had a rich history of being the only voice in the writers’ room; and Melina, who hadn’t had the experience before, but has been killing it in music videos and killed it with this, you know, just been really open to taking chances on people and myself included. And I’m just so proud to be able to say that we made the show that we wanted to make.”
Executive producer Prentice Penny described their process of building a writers’ room and hiring collaborators — explaining what exactly the traits were that they wanted for creative collaborators on the show.
“I think, for us, I think the most important thing was having a well-rounded room and not just having well-rounded rooms in terms of Black people to white people; but I think it was having people who come from the world of comedy, also people who come from the world of drama, people who are older, people who are a little bit younger, gay, straight,” Penny said.
“All of those things played a huge part in how we assembled it, and once we started to meet people, Issa and I would sit, and we sort of started making this puzzle of, like, we have this voice, we don’t have this voice. And sometimes I feel like in the writers’ room you might have six people who have the same voice. And I think, for us, we wanted to have every writer to have their own voice. Like, there’s no copycat of this writer in the room. It’s like every person was there for a singular purpose, and we used them for that intent as well. So I think that was a huge part, I think, in how we assembled our room.”
Considering the timing of the release of the series — with race relations tense and appalling — Issa was asked whether or not people can learn anything from Insecure.
“I think it’s helpful in the way that you watch this and you realize, which is the most basic thing, that black people are human. Black people are — you know, go through the same experiences as everybody else,” she explained. “And I think there’s a tendency vibe in certain cases like news and media portrayal of, like, this — like, almost like we are bringing it on ourselves because we tend to be violent by nature. We are constantly approaching the police, or we are — you know, there’s always a narrative that’s against us in a way. And I think with this show, it’s just an opportunity to take our mind off of things but also realize, like, at the end of the day, we are all the same.”
Insecure premieres on HBO Oct. 9 at 10:30. Check out the new teaser below.