Last month I introduced you to Issa Rae and her hilarious new webseries, “The Misadventures of AWKWARD Black Girl.” Many of you checked out the first episode, loved it, and said you couldn’t wait to see more.
Well, your wish is my command. Recently, I had the opportunity to catch up with Issa Rae to discuss her work, the difficulties black filmmakers face in Hollywood, and of course, find out how she came up with “Awkward Black Girl.”
Check out my Q&A with Ms. Rae and peep the second Episode of “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.” I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Britni Danielle: You’ve worked on short films, music videos, and have created your own webseries, what made you want to make films?
Issa Rae: I’ve always been a movie buff, for as long as I can remember. I was in plays all four years of high school and thought I wanted to become an actress. I had been spoiled, going to a predominantly Black and Latino high school, where my Drama teacher put on plays that catered to us. When I went to college … that just wasn’t the case. The roles for people of color were limited and the plays were not my cup of tea. But, there was a Black female senior at my school who cast me in her very own campus production. She wrote, directed, produced and put on an original hip-hopera using campus resources. After she graduated, I was inspired to experiment with directing and I decided to blend my love of film and theater to adapt Spike Lee’s “School Daze” into a musical. If I was disappointed with the lack of roles on campus, why not create some?
BD: As a black female filmmaker, you must bump up against a bit of adversity, especially being in an industry that is so White and so male. How do you deal with it without being discouraged?
IR: I refuse to let it discourage me. I thrive on being “the other” because it helps me to stand out. Within this “White, male industry” there’s this formulaic monotony that I’m just not concerned with and I’d much rather focus on telling the story I want to tell, regardless of whether or not it’s accepted by the mainstream. I’m not mainstream. And I’m cool with that.
BD: Who are some of your influences?
IR: Gina Prince-Bythewood made me want to be a writer/director. As corny as it sounds, “Love & Basketball” was one of those movies that changed my life. I wrote her a letter when I was 16, telling her I had completed my first screenplay and I wanted her to direct it and she wrote me back! I still have that e-mail. THANK GOD, I never sent her that WACK script! But she was very encouraging and I will ALWAYS support anything she does. Otherwise, I love Tina Fey, Donald Glover, Spike Lee, Christopher Guest and Larry David.
BD: There has been a lot of talk about Blacks in Hollywood lately. Anthony Mackie went on record as saying that there are a lot of black folks with distribution deals, so we should be making our own films. As a young filmmaker, why do you think there seems to be so few mainstream films for/by Black folks?
IR: I think it’s because the “Movie Powers That Be” don’t know what Black people want, and when they think they give us what we want, we don’t always support it like we should. So now, they’re like, “Why bother?” Tyler Perry exploded onto the scene because he reached a niche audience. He knows HIS audience and he creates content FOR them so they come out in droves to support him. But now, it seems that “The Movie Powers That Be” think we’re satisfied with just HIS genre of film, and that’s just not the case. I’d love to go back to the 90s Golden Era for Black film and television, but there has to be a demand for it. A LOUD one! There’s an audience for GOOD Black film, but there isn’t enough marketing for quality films like, “Night Catches Us” and … dang, I can’t even think of any other good black films that came out last year off the top of my head. That’s sad.
BD: You’ve taken to the web as a means to tell your stories. From the webseries “F’ Word” and now with “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” do you think more Black filmmakers should be looking to the web as a means to promote their work?
IR: YES! Like Tambay from SHADOW & ACT said, the web is the “new frontier.” All these different mediums are fusing together: film, TV, web, gaming, social media. If you can’t get a distribution deal, find your own audience and tell your story that way. If your work is good and you work hard for it to be seen, you will be recognized in the end. But at the same time, we also need to form the committees that DO the recognizing, and I’m really excited that people like Ava DuVernay are creating entities like AFFRM to do just that.
BD: The first episode of your webseries, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” is hilarious. How did you come up with the idea for the series?
IR: Thank you! I came up with the idea two years ago mainly based on some of my own awkward moments and the stupid, insecure, uncomfortable, sometimes angry thoughts that occur in my head while I’m interacting with people. I realized that a lot of these awkward moments are universal, so I thought it’d make a funny show. I originally wanted to make it an animated short series, but when I talked to my friend about animating it, she was too busy being all fancy with Med School, so I just sat on it for a while. A couple of weeks later she sent me an article from CLUTCH, which posed the question, “Where is the Black Liz Lemon?” and I knew I had to get on it! So after trying to hire an animator and realizing it was just too expensive for me to afford, I decided to get in front of the camera and have one of my best friends shoot it. If I didn’t do it guerilla style, it wasn’t going to get done. So I did it and the response has been amazing so far!
BD: What do you want people to take away from watching “Awkward Black Girl”?
IR: I hope people will laugh. I hope people will relate. But most of all, I hope people will demand to see more characters like these on screen. In film and television, black quirky characters and actors are far and few. Off top, I can only think of three who stand out to me: Maya Rudolph, Rashida Jones and Donald Glover. I may be forgetting some, but overall, there just isn’t a diverse representation of black characters, so I hope to ignite a desire to see more of them on screen.
BD: What’s next for you, Ms. Rae?
IR: I honestly think “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” “Fly Guys present The ‘F’ Word” and even “Dorm Diaries” have a place on TV, and I’m pushing for that. I would LOVE to be involved in creating the next Black Golden Era of TV and BET is in a position to make that happen, especially with the acquisition of “The Game.” So BET, if you’re looking for content, I got that crack. Otherwise, I’m going to continue writing, creating, struggling and scheming in hopes that you continue to watch!