Issa Rae On Telling Her Story And The Road From YouTube To HBO

The star and creator of 'Insecure' opens up about creating a show for Black women and its universal appeal.

Sydney Scott Mar, 28, 2017

Issa Rae’s Insecure has been a hit for HBO, but the creator and star of the breakout series initially had a tough time bringing the show to life.

Speaking with Newsy, Rae admitted that going from her YouTube hit, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, to the HBO seriesshe was told a number of times that she’d have to change key elements of the show. “I was still told … ‘This doesn’t have an audience, and you know, if you want to take it to television, you’re going to have to recast everybody you know, including yourself.'”

Fortunately, HBO arrived just in time and Rae was able to keep the cast just the way it was and she’s since earned a Golden Globe nomination for the show. 

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Rae says that Insecure is very much about “black female friendship and black women,” but adds that it also has universal appeal. “You know, we all go through a lot of the same things, and then there are things that are very specific to us, and I like to show both. … Like, I watch The Americans, I’m not a spy. I’m not married. I’m not Russian. But there’s just something about the storytelling that draws me in.”

“You don’t have to experience something completely to understand it and to feel close to it. … We’re not trying to tell every black woman’s experience. We’re telling a very, very specific story, and you know, all black women aren’t going to like it. They don’t. … All we can do is just strive to tell the best story we can and the most authentic story.”

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[MUSIC] Thank you guys. It is an honor to be here. First of all, this is a huge, full circle moment for me because this is my favorite event to come to as Ava said, it's such a genuine A real event the only one my publicist doesn't have to force me go to it. It's also the first event where I walked a red carpet. I remember the day distinctly, it was four years ago and I was fresh off of season two of "Awkward Black Girl". And I was already nervous because I had to go to the event by myself which awkward black girls don't like to do. [LAUGH] And my publicist Vanessa shout out to you girl, she was like if you do anything, you better walk that damn carpet. [LAUGH] And I didn't know what to expect but I knew I had a specific task now so, I had to go. And I remember arriving and standing in the Red Carpet line. The woman in front of me turned around and it was [UNKNOWN] Nathan, you all. [LAUGH] So [UNKNOWN] turned and she smiled at me. But I looked down and instead of saying something [LAUGH] I immediately text my younger brother and my sister because I knew they'd understand. And my brother wrote something back, like Did you tell are you a **** just for her? [LAUGH] And my sister wrote something back like say something to her, so I put my phone down and I started note. And I walk the hell out of that line because I did not belong there, I was not about to meet anybody red carpet at lion. So when I got back in line, [UNKNOWN] had already passed through. So I stood there by myself and scrolled through my phone, which is an awkward girl defense mechanism. [LAUGH] And I looked up for a moment and I met eyes with Niecy Nash, who I love from Reno 911 at this time. And she said was in the front of the line. And she winked at me and waved. And I looked at her like you know me? [LAUGH] And she just gave me an encouraging look like, you belong here, girl. Asia, I feel you. I do not feel like I belong. So I got to the red carpet, and I was ready. I gave the carpet publicist, I think that's what they're called, the people that ask yo for your name, and they shout it out, [LAUGH] I gave the carpet publicist my name and he announced Esa Ray everybody and I stepped out onto the red carpet, hand on my hip ready for the cameras. No sooner than five seconds that I stepped on the carpet I heard, " Lela Ali" and everybody turned. [laughter] The cameras all turned to this gorgeous goddess and I stood in the middle of the carpet not sure what to do. Until a kind photographer helped me, and he said hey can you help me move I'm trying to get Laila. [LAUGH] And if you look at the footage from five years ago you can see me in the background of somebody's interview asking To no one in particular. Do we go just this way? [LAUGH] Do I just walk off? When you try to act like other people look stupid. Girl, she said go this way. [LAUGH] Let's go, come on. So was I embarrassed? Yes the hell I was. But as soon as I walked inside, I was floored by the number of beautiful black women showing love to one another. They were laughing, hugging, complimenting one another, and doing that magic thing that black women do. And as I took it all in I remember Vanessa Bell Callaway coming up to me to ask to take a picture with me and I was stunned. So that's basically my red carpet story at my first year at Essence. So you can understand why I'm grateful not only to be here today and have photographers actually wanna take a picture of me, but to also be recognized along so many of the women that I love and respect. [UNKNOWN] Asia, Janelle. You guys are just the most phenomenal women. And I'm just so happy to just be mentioned with you guys. It's such a great time for us. Love you. Love you. [APPLAUSE] My first year at Essence, Black woman in Hollywood I got to breathe the same air as Oprah, I listened intently to Gabrielle Union's amazing real as hell speech that year, and I have to shout out Gabrielle who was one of the earliest people to show love to Awkward Black Girl. I remember my brothers texting me, hyped Gabrielle Union watches Awkward Black Girl. She tweeted about it, she didn't have to do that. And it was at Essence, it was at that Essence four years ago when I first met the amazing Felicia Leatherwood, who is my natural hair saviour. [APPLAUSE] So thank you, Essence. Or I'd be talking to you patchy and bald. [LAUGH] But that's what Essence is. It's black women connecting, and celebrating, and supporting, and loving black women. And I am so grateful for that I love us so much because we give love and we give life, no matter who tries us. And we stay on course together. So I wanted to take this moment, while I have the honor to be acknowledged here. Debbie, I'm so sorry you have to stand through this. [LAUGH] [LAUGH] [APPLAUSE] I love you so much. So I wanted to take this moment when I have the honor of being acknowledged here, To count all the ways in which the black woman, many of whom are in this room, have paved the way for me and my career, Obviously it starts with my mother, who is here with my dad and my family and she is the first black woman I have ever loved with all of my heart. And the first to love me sincerely and dearly. And because of that I have the strength and confidence to do what I do. And ironically she's where I get all my awkwardness from. So thank you for that. [APPLAUSE] She and my wonderful father raised five kids, including me. Two of our oldest sons married amazing black women entrepreneurs. My younger sister is a black woman who I look to as the cool one, because she's the only one our family who can dance. [LAUGH] And my youngest brother is not a black woman, so I have nothing to say about him. [LAUGH] Just kidding, I love you, he's single, get a black woman. [APPLAUSE] But thank you Essence for this event and for making us honorees feel special, and loved, and magic, and most of all, important. Thank you for this honor. And thank you Debbie Allen for standing through all that. [APPLAUSE] Thank you guys, thank you. [APPLAUSE]