Q&A with Awkward Black Girl’s Issa Rae

It’s not every day when you can hold someone’s undivided attention. As news and film companies can testify, your attention is a valuable thing. Still, it’s a badly-kept secret that mainstream broadcasters don’t consider portraying the many dimensions of people of colour a worthy challenge.  Mekeisha Madden Toby of the Detroit News explored this phenomenon last December, speaking about African-Americans “then & now” on television.

So when my girlfriend sent me the link to Episode 5 of the web series The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl, I was transfixed. For the rest of the afternoon I watched the previous episodes and checked in with friends to see if they got the link. Together we laughed into coughing fits. But I also wondered aloud, “Who is this woman getting over 300,000 YouTube views and  exactly how did she accomplish this?”

Recently I landed an interview with the series creator Issa Rae for Sway Magazine. For Canadian readers, the Stanford University graduate explains why she set out guerilla-style with her camera in the first place, and how things turned out.

ABG's Issa Rae

Issa Rae featured on Shadow and Act IndieWire blog

Now as editors can also testify, space, like your attention, is worth something. Here’s more of Rae, which because of word count didn’t make the Sway piece.

Q: How is the experience managing the success of your series?  What are some of the toughest things to deal with?

ISSA RAE: There’s definitely a lot of pressure. That’s the toughest thing to deal with, personally. I just feel like there’s a lot riding on this show and it’s an opportunity to change the landscape of television. If people continue to watch, enjoy and support, then network executives will get the message that we want to see MORE than what we’re currently limited to for people of color.  

Q: How committed are you to taking your series the cable route? Why not stay with the online success? 

ISSA RAE: I’m not committed to cable at ALL. I really like the online space. If cable provides me with creative control and ownership, then I’m all for it. But that’s not looking very likely at the moment, which is why I’m committed to building my audience online before jumping into a cable deal. 

Read more at Swaymag.ca.

The runaway success of a web series is nothing new. But combine that with the ingenuity of a writer/director like Rae and the ABG team—who take the race discourse in America to a place beyond news reports, talking heads and reality shows— and we’ve got real movement. With that, we’re gradually witnessing on the web – like never before – portrayals by black writers about human experiences.

Do you have a favourite web series that thoughtfully explores this awkward idea of race?

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