Issa Rae Celebrates Black Sitcoms in GQ

Issa Rae Celebrates Black Sitcoms in GQ
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by Sameer Rao

Insecure” creator and actress Issa Rae told GQ magazine that she created her Emmy-nominated HBO series to fill a void left by the loss of her favorite Black-led sitcoms. “The takeaway was, ‘Agh, Black people are so dope. Where are they at on TV right now? Now I want my own version,’” she said of her feelings about shows like “A Different World” and “Girlfriends.”

Rae paid tribute to several of those series in photos that accompanied the profile, which ran online yesterday (May 22). See her recreate Steve Urkel (“Family Matters”), Dwayne Wayne (“A Different World”), Moesha Mitchell (“Moesha”) and Will Smith (“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”):

The article charted Rae’s path from these seeds of inspiration to her acclaimed webseries, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” “Insecure” and her growing list of other projects. She related a difficult experience in which Shondaland head Shonda Rhimes helped her land a show at ABC: 

In 2012, after “Awkward Black Girl took off, Shonda Rimes helped Rae pitch ABC on a show called “I Hate L.A. Dudes.” ABC bought the show, but the series fell apart in development, as the network picked Rae’s script apart with a constant barrage of notes and changes. It was a formative experience. “I was a mess,” Rae says now. “I was just like, Yeah, I have this shot, but I don’t want to fuck it up, so I’m just gonna listen to what everybody says. And I just became like fucking clay for people to mold. The Shonda process was, like, the best shit that happened to me, because it gave me confidence to feel like, ‘Oh, I can do this.’ And I feel like ABC took the confidence away.” Rae emerged from the experience determined never to compromise in that way again: “Like, I need to know what the fuck I want to say before I say yes to any opportunity. I need to have a clearer point of view and clear voice.”

She carried that purpose into “Insecure,” which reflects the Black Los Angeles communities she calls home:

Over time, she’s developed an unofficial rule about where “Insecure” does and does not shoot, and she avoids going north of the freeway if at all possible. “Growing up here, nobody lives in Hollywood. Nobody lives north of the 10. This is a blanket statement, but most of my friends from L.A. are Black and they live south of the 10 or, like, along it, or Mid-City. That’s the L.A. that I know, and that’s the L.A. that I want to represent and portray.”

The profile is one of three cover stories for the new Comedy Issue of GQ. Rae appears on the cover with fellow comic actresses Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”) and Sarah Silverman (“Crashing”). The trio parodies the 2018 cover of Vanity Fair magazine’s Hollywood Portfolio issue, which was ridiculed for its extraneous limbs.

Gloria Mangi is an award winning, creative, journalist, activist and founder of the award winning African Queens Project and host of Queen Things Podcast.