It’s easy to see why the Internets has fallen in love with Issa Rae’s popular web series, The Adventures of Awkward Black Girl. The protagonist is human, flawed and devoid of trite stereotypes typical of Black female characters. She is the type of woman who can rock to Lil Jon or Luke but also Kings of Leon. Her boss is annoying, her co-workers are bizarre and all she really wants is to find love and be happy. It’s a simple concept yet brilliantly constructed as the show’s writing inspires laughs without trying too hard, and reminds even the coolest person that there is a little gawky behavior in all of us.
VIBE caught up with series creator Issa Rae, and found out that she isn’t as awkward as her show’s heroine. The Stanford University, UCLA and New York Film Academy graduate grew up in Senegal, Maryland and LA with a family who encouraged writing and art from an early age. Siting Christopher Jess, Wes Anderson, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Tina Fey as influences, Issa Rae is hopeful that her series, which now has over one million YouTube views, will see the light of cable TV. Get familiar. --Starrene Rhett
People are buzzing about the series quite a bit so you must be coming TV soon, right?
Yeah, word is getting around fast. I have representation, like an agent or manager, and that team is working to try to get it on TV. As we speak, I’m writing to make it a 30-minute show and see who will take it. But I can’t reveal too much about that yet.
Ideally, what network would you want this to come on?
I definitely want a cable network to pick it up because I’m partial to cursing [laughs]. I don’t want to have to tone a lot of things down so any cable network would be great for me.
Do you write everything yourself?
Up until episode five I was writing everything myself, but with episode six I had two co-writers on there and they did an amazing job. I’m really open to other people’s ideas. It’s cool to see people write in my vision and write for this character. That’s something that’s never happened before so I’m really open to that.
Where do you see ‘Awkward Black Girl’ fitting into the TV landscape?
I definitely feel like everybody has these awkward moments so that in itself is universal. And I think that just because the show is titled Awkward Black Girl and it is a predominately Black cast doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to relate to these people. We’re all human beings. We all essentially go through the same things when it comes down to it, so I don’t I think that should limit who watches it. The show and the concept should be mainstream but I don’t know that Hollywood is ready to accept an entire Black cast or a predominately multicultural cast as mainstream and that’s where my problem is. That’s why I feel like it’s poppin’ on YouTube, but I’m not completely sure how it will end up TV or if people will respond to it the same way. So that’s part of the problem. I don’t know if it will stay on the Internet where it can spread through word of mouth or go on TV where I might be limited to a certain audience because people are afraid to watch [an all Black cast].
You mentioned that you’re working on getting it on TV but have you gotten any cool celebrity cosigns?
Tracie Thoms hit me up about it and that was cool. Kim Coles hit me up about it too. There’s a couple of celebrities who have seen it and contacted me about it; Erika Alexander from Living Single, that was cool. But as far as producer or writers, not yet, but I would love that. I have heard that it’s circulating around the industry, though.
Your humor works because it’s just universally funny. There’s no preachy messages or pretense and it doesn’t wreak of trying too hard, which tends to be an issue with so-called “Black” comedy. It’s like, Tyler Perry is one extreme and then the Spike Lee is another extreme. But you still leave out a whole group of people who might be Black but not all about being beat in the head with overused epithets of our culture. Why do you think those people get left out?
I completely agree with you. I don’t know exactly why that is the case. There’s a catch 22. That’s the content that comes out, and a lot of Black people are like ‘this is a movie for Black people starring Black people and we have to support it ‘cause if we don’t we’re not gonna get another movie.’ But at the same time, supporting that kind of humor, they’re gonna keep on releasing that same type of humor.So I think that by supporting it, we’re kind of accepting it and it’s not gonna go anywhere if we don’t produce other kinds of content or humor. That humor is just so tired. I hate to say it but I hate Black humor. I feel like a Klan member saying it but it’s just not funny.
I’m with you on that! But what would you like to accomplish in your career as a writer and director?
I really want to be the Black Tina Fey, where I just am able to produce my own content and produce other content for other minority filmmakers and put their voices on screen and basically be able to have free range to produce. I guess I respect that about Tyler Perry, that he’s able to produce whatever he wants no matter what it is and I do wanna be able to do that.
And what are your hopes for Awkward Black Girl?
I want to also make a cult indie film almost in the name of Napolean Dyanmite. But yeah I definitely wanna see it on TV.
Watch episode seven below.
Like what you saw? Check out the Awkward Black Girl Kickstarter page to see how you can help keep this season afloat.