Issa Rae is trying to revolutionize the television landscape. The YouTuber with over 25 million views for her show "The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl" and best-selling author of a book with the same name recently talked to The Huffington Post about her own experiences moving to mainstream television, TV executives who don't think about race, and her plans for total domination.
Rae credits social media with the recent push to focus on diversity in television, and told HuffPost Live's Marc Lamont Hill that social media made trends more visible:
"Until you have people in positions of power that have varied experiences, nothing will change. Honestly, we're not on [television executives'] radar. They don't know. They're not really thinking about us. If you have people in positions of power that don't have very many black friends, that don't really understand the black experience, they're not thinking about it and there are not enough people concerned with it… Social media changed the game in that you're seeing all of these tweets, you're seeing all these trending topics from…black people who are expressing what they want to see. Now people take notice."
Shonda Rhimes, Oprah Winfrey, and Larry Wilmore are just a few of the people taking notice of Rae. She's producing an HBO pilot with Wilmore, and posted about a meeting with Oprah (though we're not sure about what) on her Instagram three months ago.
She's also launched her own way of bringing diverse voices into the spotlight by launching ColorCreative.TV.
"CC.TV highlights women and minority writers, and produces their pilots, and gets them an audience, and then packages their content, and showcases them to networks," she said. "Studio and network executives are taking an interest in content of color. On the surface that's great, but behind the scenes, they're still not hiring very many."
No matter what, Rae doesn't ever want to be "TMZ famous," and instead prefers to be known through her work.
"I want to be able to have the same sort of observational humor that I've had that people can relate to. I don't want to be in a situation where no one can relate to what I'm writing, or what I have to say. That's important to me."
Rae notes that she doesn't feel comfortable being placed in the mainstream media's definition of blackness, either, saying, "I don't fit within that. I'm in this awkward definition of blackness. Black is supposed to be cool, black is sassy, black is trendsetting. I just don't feel that way. It's almost limited in a way and I feel like black is so much more than that."
Rae also talks candidly about projects that didn't pan out for her, including her "frustrating" second web series and a network pilot that didn't get picked up.
"You're not really entitled to anything. I felt like I was extremely frustrated with my second web series, it just felt like we were putting in all the work, we were doing everything right, we were dedicated, it seemed like people were responding well, and it just wasn't going anywhere. People wanted us to pick a lane, because it was a music and comedy show. I felt like I was entitled to success, and that's just a ridiculous notion."
It's a great interview — you should read the whole thing.
Danielle Henderson is a lapsed academic, heavy metal karaoke machine, and culture editor at Fusion. She enjoys thinking about how race, gender, and sexuality shape our cultural narratives, but not in a boring way.