Issa Rae is no stranger to giving back to her people, especially creatives. From the launch of Raedio to her eight-figure deal with Warner Bros., the Insecure and Lovebirds actress has proven that she’s the embodiment of a multi-hyphenated boss babe in media. Now, Rae has collaborated with LIFEWTR to unveil Life Unseen, the brand’s new platform in the ongoing fight for fair representation within the arts across four main creative territories including fashion, film, music, and visual arts.
According to a press release, the campaign will “expose representational blind spots in the creative industry through a first-of-its-kind research study” and “uplift the creative expressions of 20 diverse artists” who are considered minorities from marginalized groups and identify as people of color, persons with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community and women. Moreover, Life Unseen will provide five new creatives with the funding and mentorship they need to support their own creative projects through a national call to action.
ESSENCE caught up with Rae about her partnership with LIFEWTR, her role in the Life Unseen campaign, and why advocating for Black women in the arts beyond diversity and inclusion is important. Check out our chat below:
Talk about the partnership and the new Life Unseen platform and what your role will be.
RAE: LIFEWTR and I partnered to shine a light again on the fight for representation and to do our part to give a platform to creatives across the fashion, music, film, and visual arts industries by showcasing and finding these underrepresented talented voices. My role has been in helping to select and producing the video, selecting the director, and providing mentorship for some of these creators, including the five new ones that were having a contest to find.
Why did you decide to partner with LIFEWTR and how does it align with other projects that you’re involved with?
RAE: As a creative, I understand how important it is for your work to have a platform. All you want is for your work to be seen, because you’re always like, “Man, if the right person just sees it, then I can get an opportunity.” To be able to give those creators just that is something that aligns with my mission since my career has started, and LIFEWTR’s as well. They’ve, since the company’s inception, prioritized diverse voices. To be able to showcase in some way all 20 of these creatives on their bottle collection and on their literal product set for the world to see is incredible. What bigger platform than that?
The word “representation” gets tossed around pretty frequently. What exactly does representation mean to you and how can we better implement that definition?
RAE: I think representation is equity. It’s an opportunity to be seen and heard. And too often people are just like, “Representation, look, you’re there. We see you. Great. It’s done. We did it,” but does that person have a voice? Are you committed to making sure that this person has a place in the industry? Even with LIFEWTR, they’ve commissioned a study to find out specifically wherein these industries, in the fashion industry, what are the statistics in terms of how many disabled people are represented in the fashion industry and in the film industry? What is the mix of men versus women and Black and Latinos? It’s showcasing what the problem is so that we can fix it. Fixing it is just a lot more work, but at least we’re doing the work to see where we can do better.
How have you personally experienced or witnessed unfair representation across the arts?
RAE: So much of it I’ve learned, even in the stats. Something that I’m working to change even on my next show, is thinking about able-bodied peoples’ representation versus disabled peoples’ representation, hearing that 13% of the population and only less than 1%. The Latinx community’s representation in the film industry is abysmal and I’m trying to collaborate with partners to increase that visibility. I’m just constantly looking for ways that I can use my platform to uplift those voices. Within the 20 people that we’ve selected, trying to find opportunities to work with them in different capacities. The work doesn’t stop there. Beyond the mentorship, actual collaboration, and fostering of relationships.
How have you seen public figures and celebrities such as yourself use their platforms to expose institutional and systemic racism across the arts?
RAE: The amazing thing about social media has always been the democratization of voices. To be able to hear from some random person in Utah, to be able to have the same access to telling the truth as Justin Bieber, I think that that’s incredible. Specifically, during this time, it’s really provided me an opportunity to air frustrations and to hold people accountable to make the change.
I think about these racial uprisings that happened in June and how people were able to call out their own companies to make a change, and so put their feet on their necks to not just tweet about it or post a black square, but to actively do something to change the foundation of their companies, to change what they prioritize. What remains to be seen is how long that will last, but what I do love about LIFEWTR and some of these other brands THAT my respective peers that I’m working with are that we’re not letting up and this is a constant mission. It’s not just a fad.
Yung Baby Tate is signed to Raedio and she’s featured as one of the creatives in the campaign. How did that come about and what made her a fit?
RAE: That happened actually even before I came on board, which was a pleasant surprise. LIFEWTR gave me some names, we gave LIFEWTR some names, and she was already on there. It was like, “Oh, y’all know I worked with her.” I don’t know how organic that was, but I’m going to trust that it was her own talent that brought her to the table.
I also had a hand in creating the video, producing the video via Color Creative, a management company, and a production company. We selected the director, Child, who I’m a huge fan of. Yung Baby Tate in particular is such a self-starter. That’s what drew me to her. I love working with multi-hyphenates and people who are entrepreneurs in their own right. She’s been working to create a platform for herself. She always empowers other female artists across the globe. It’s the epitome of a creative that I aspire to because she just never runs out of ideas. I love that she’s involved in this.
What is it about the power of Black women that really helps us to hold these larger companies accountable to help really bring forward positive conversations about diversity, representation, and equity?
RAE: I think the gift and the curse of being a Black woman is that we’re going to take care of it. If nobody else is going to do it, it’ll either fall on us or we’ll just take it upon ourselves to do it. I think that’s a great thing, but I also think it’s an unfair thing because it’s just like, well, who’s going to save us then? Who’s going to do it for us when we need you? So yes, I’m proud and annoyed simultaneously.