Women Who Do – In the Era of Internet, TV and Film

Keryn Nelson
Keryn Nelson


If you think that you already have what you need to facilitate the vision you have for your life, perhaps Issa Rae’s story may inspire you.

I write this article post conclusively turning over the yellow paperback cover of Issa Rae’s first published book ‘The Adventures of Awkward Black Girl’. (N.B I’m aware that ‘Issa Rae’ is not her full name however this is the way she refers to herself, hence I will do the same.)

Like many, I first heard of the growing mogul pre “Insecure”, while she was claiming her spot on Social Media, namely Youtube as ‘J’, the “Awkward Black Girl” (ABG), a character so relatable it had spun her into the realms of internet stardom. To avoid being pretentious I cannot say I found the show in 2011 when it was just making its initial rounds on Youtube, on the contrary, I actually heard its title while watching a podcast by Dormtainment in 2015 (a sextet of males who produced comedic youtube content), which featured Rae. There the boys mentioned that her ‘Awkward Black Girl’ series had been one of their inspirations. Ofcourse, I was instantly intrigued by the name of the show alone and grew anxious to search and view it myself.

Although I caught on when the show had already closed with its Season two finale “The Change”, both seasons were pieces of digital content I had consumed during half-day long binges (my binge times would be shorter had they not included snack intermissions). So yes, I highly recommend watching it if you haven’t already. In the event that the year of its debut fools you into thinking the show might be a bit “dated”, worry not, the awkward humor is timeless. Search “Awkward Black Girl” on youtube and get your fix.

What had really fascinated me about Issa Rae was not the laughs she provided, but the realization that after calling on her friends to get on board, she had orchestrated the filming of “The Stop Sign”; the series’ very first installment, herself. When the episode eventually went viral, Rae alongside producer Tracy Oliver created a Kickstarter in order to fund the remainder of the series.
With an evidently low budget, each episode hit comedic marks and quenched a thirst for a unique story my then college self did not even know I had. As a millennial with a heavy grasp and eye on and for the “self making” capabilities of the internet, I was inspired. I felt Rae’s show was the virtual manifestation of ambition and of a persons desire to do their part in actualizing their ‘dreams’. She was doing what she could with what she had and for that reason, although I did not know much about the writer-actress at the time, I could sense she was more than just a here-for-today-gone-by-tomorrow sort of talent.

As these stories tend to go, we often wrongfully fast forward past all the grimey details and valleys to highlight the accomplishments and peaks. However, it is useful to mention that Rae’s triumphs did not actualize overnight. Rather, she spent much of her time at college directing and staging plays as well as taking on co-ordination roles for performance events during and after her school stint. She later moved to New York where she worked for a Theatre with plans of pitching “Dorm Diaries” (a web series she created after college) to producers in the hopes of having it eventually air on television. While in New York, determined to “reform the image of black film” she also founded a non-profit organization “The Black Film Academy”. But after having her apartment robbed and ransacked and subsequently hitting one of life’s lulls Issa returned to Los Angeles. Fortunately though, upon her return she had that golden epiphany; to create content around her identity as an ABG- an “Awkward Black Girl”.

Later, in 2016, five years post ABG, here came that familiar face and name making its rounds on social media again, however this time it was due to claims that her popular internet series had opened up Hollywood’s doors; she was now (then) going to star in her own ABG inspired television series “Insecure”. Once more, I found myself absorbed and interlaced in the galaxy that was Issa Rae’s genius and imagination. I went to youtube and caught up with all the ABG sub content I had missed as well as the press that she had been doing for not just her new series but also what had accumulated from as far back as the days ABG had just gotten its legs. I noted the details of her journey; 1) how she acquired mentors along the way, but not after believing in and laying the foundation for her vision. 2) How she had already proven herself against the qualms of conformist TV producers that her starring in a series would successfully have it garner a dedicated audience, something not every actress can bring to the table. I marvelled at the ‘beginning’ of Rae’s new journey while remembering the shaky DSLR footage of the first Episodes of ABG. 

I continue to observe as Rae pieces together her empire with every new project. In addition to her TV show, she consistently delivers content on Youtube channel “Issa Rae” , which now has a large catalogue of web shows and short films created and produced by content creators from around the world, highlighting stories that some of us may not have otherwise been exposed to. She also host’s an interview series, “A sip with [insert name of accomplished female creator here]” the episodes of which are available on the Issa Rae patreon page. Her book The Adventures of Awkward Black Girl was published in February of 2015 and ofcourse is still available for purchase. As mentioned before, I recently finished this book, which reads as a collection of essays, two days ago. Like most of her work I found it equally hilarious as I did inspiring. Enough so that I felt compelled to chronicle these thoughts with the hopes that others appreciate her genius as much as I do.

Currently, Insecure’s second season is scheduled to come out July 23rd, 2017. If you missed the first season you can check it out on hbo.com.


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