That Awkward Moment When... 'Awkward Black Girl' Blows Up

Filmmaker Issa Rae has built a cult following, with an Internet show that’s not just for colored girls. But it might be too hot for TV

Words: Clover Hope | Photo: Trevor Traynor

School yard rumbles are like boxing events for kids. Everyone gathers in a circle, eggs on the fighters and then walks away giddy to spread the gossip. In sixth grade, Issa Rae—the creator and star of the 1-year-old Web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl—spotted two boys arguing in the hallway of L.A.’s Palms Middle School. She’d never seen a fight before. Alone, and sensing an impending beat down, she did what any obnoxiously awkward kid would—walked up to them and stood there in silence. “They stopped and looked at me, like, ‘What are you doing…?’” Rae recalls. Tina Fey has competition. And she’s clearly just as socially inept.

Record-halting moments like this are the running theme on Awkward Black Girl, which stars Issa Rae as J, a deadpan employee at a weight-loss-pill company who’s somewhere between antisocialist and social assassin. With wide eyes and a mini-’fro, J looks nothing like the leads we see on whitewashed TV, another point of comfort for the show’s average 380,000 YouTube viewers. She’s prone to imagining absurd scenarios and coping with stress by penning ratchet rap lyrics (“I will slice you and dice you”), an exaggeration of 27-year-old Issa’s own quirks. “Even though J is Black, the things she goes through are universal. I can relate to Jerry Seinfeld’s pet peeves or Liz Lemon’s insecurities, but it bothers me that there aren’t people of color in those roles,” says Rae, who grew up in middle-class Windsor Hills, Los Angeles. “The awkward white girl is nothing new. It’s time for a change.”

While network TV struggles with just how much of its content to post online and still profit, dot-com shows have experienced an Adele-esque ascension. Internet TV hub hulu.com draws in 1.5 million subscribers, Google and YouTube are collaborating on quality programming meant to rival cable TV and parody-skit site Funny or Die is producing its first feature film. “One of our style technicians said, ‘Internet isn’t afraid of TV, but TV is afraid of Internet,’” says Issa. “Because they don’t know what to do with it. There are so many possibilities. And I don’t think it’s temporary.”

After sitting on the idea for two years, Issa started filming the voice-over-heavy Awkward Black Girl last year—along with production partner Tracy Oliver and a team of four writers—in the wake of odd gigs like being a tour guide for an African-American museum exhibit (“I was in the slave ship every day,” says Issa). “I was into film. And in that environment, you always have to go to networking events. I would end up not speaking to anyone. So I started thinking about how uncomfortable it is to interact with people,” says the Stanford alum. “I read an article in Clutch that asked where the Black Liz Lemon was. And I was like, I need to do this now before it’s too late.”


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Netflix Releases Trailer For 'Self Made: Inspired By The Life Of Madam C.J. Walker'

The story of Madam C.J. Walker's rise to self-made status will premiere on March 20 on Netflix. Starring Octavia Spencer as the titular character, the four-part limited series will depict the entrepreneur's rise in the hair care industry and the obstacles she faced from those within and outside of her community to become the nation's first black woman self-made millionaire.

According to Deadline, the show takes its cues from A'Lelia Bundles' book, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker. Bundles is the great-great-grandaughter of Walker, born Sarah Breedlove. The show is directed by DeMane Davis and Kasi Lemmons, touting production by SpringHill Entertainment, Warner Bros., and Wonder Street.

The series also stars Blair Underwood, Tiffany Haddish, Garrett Morris, and Carmen Ejogo.

View the trailer below.

Meet America’s first empire-building, barrier-breaking, self-made female millionaire

Octavia Spencer stars in Self Made, a limited series inspired by the incredible life of Madam C.J. Walker pic.twitter.com/VGAi2uNVW7

— Netflix US (@netflix) February 25, 2020

#SelfMadeNetflix is out March 20th! So proud to be apart of this project about Madam CJ Walker!! @strongblacklead pic.twitter.com/w49Y7iigQw

— Kasi Lemmons (@kasi_lemmons) February 25, 2020

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‘Boyz N The Hood’ And ‘You Got Served’ Actress Esther Scott Dies At Age 66

Esther Scott, the actress who appeared in Boyz n the Hood, Beverly Hills 90210, Full House, You Got Served and more, has passed away at age 66.

Scott died last Friday (Feb. 14), days after suffering an apparent heart attack. Her death was first reported on Tuesday (Feb. 18) by TMZ.

According to the site, Scott was found unconscious in her Santa Monica, Calif. home last Tuesday (Feb. 11) and remained hospitalized for several days before passing away on Valentine's Day surrounded by friends and family.

"She loved what she did. She would get stopped on the street often and people would recognize her -- but they didn't know her name," Scott's sister told the website. "Hopefully now people will remember her name, her work and the contributions she gave to the entertainment industry."

The Queens native began her career as a voice actress in the ‘80s series StarWars: Ewoks. Scott’s first credited feature film role was as grandmother to the character Tisha (played by Leonette Scott) in Boyz n the Hood.

Scott worked steadily throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s, following up her appearance in Boyz n the Hood with roles in Encino Man, Don Juan DeMarco, Illegal Blue, Species, The Craft, and Out to Sea.

Scott found success in both TV and film appearing as a judge in Austin Powers in Goldmember, a grandmother in You Got Served, as well as roles in Dreamgirls, Transformers, Gangster Squad, and The Birth of a Nation, The Steve Harvey Show, Party of Five, Ellen, Hart of Dixie, and Sister, Sister.

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Malcolm X’s Assassination To Be Reinvestigated After Docuseries Raises Questions

A documentary on Malcolm X’s assassination has prompted authorities to reexamine the case. In Who Killed Malcolm X? historian Abdur-Rahman Muhammad explores the many questions surrounding the death of one of history’s most pivotal figures. The six-part series originally aired on Fusion but has been gaining popularity since appearing on Netflix.

This February will mark the 55-year anniversary of Malcolm’s murder. The former Nation of Islam leader, who left the organization and changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, was gunned down inside Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965. Three members of the NOI, Mujahid Abdul Halim, Muhammad Abdul Aziz and Khalil Islam, were convicted for the murder and sentenced to life in prison.

As noted by the Innocence Project, Aziz and Islam always maintained their innocence, while Halim confessed to partaking in the fatal shooting. In 1966, Halim testified that Aziz and Islam had “nothing to do” with the murder. In 1978, Halim identified four other men as co-conspirators. His confession was supported by FBI documents obtained by civil rights lawyer William Kunstler. Prosecutors in the original trial claimed to have been unaware of the documents and New York State Supreme Court Judge Harold Rothwax ultimately rejected a motion to vacate Aziz and Islam’s convictions. Rothwax died in 1997.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has since met with representatives from the Innocence Project “and associated counsel regarding the matter,” a spokesperson for the DA’s office said in an emailed statement, per NPR.

Although Islam died in 2009, Aziz, now 81, continues to fight to clear his name. He was freed on parole in 1985. The Innocence Project joined forces with civil rights attorney David Shanies to re-investigate Azis’s conviction. “We are grateful that District Attorney Vance quickly agreed to conduct a review of the conviction of Muhammad Aziz. Given the historical importance of this case and the fact that our client is 81 years old, we are especially encouraged that Mr. Vance has assigned two highly respected prosecutors, Peter Casolaro and Charles King, to work on this re-investigation,” the Innocence Project and Shanies said in a joint statement. “We look forward to working cooperatively with them to see that justice is done.”

Casolaro worked on the case of the Exonerated Five and King is a member of the Conviction Integrity Program of the New York County District Attorney’s Office.

As noted by the Innocence Project, there was no physical evidence linking Aziz or Islam to Malcolm’s murder. In fact, Aziz wasn’t even at the venue. The day of the murder, Aziz had returned home after being treated for a leg injury. He heard about Malcolm's assassination while listening to the radio that day, and has doctors and witnesses, to corroborate his story.

Watch the trailer for Who Killed Malcolm X? below.


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