Issa Rae was told to feature a white character in her work so people would care

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Issa Rae stays booked and busy and as she closes one chapter to her life, Insecure, Issa Rae has already moved on to her next big project, Rap $hit. In a new profile for Mic Magazine, Issa discussed how she purposely does not center whiteness in her shows. Issa also revealed that she put a white actor as a love interest in Awkward Black Girl, her first series, because she was told by a colleague that that was the only way she would get people to care about her work. Issa went on to say that she was told to do the same thing for Insecure but she decided not to. Below are a few more highlights via Mic:

“What I loved especially about that piece was that it just pointed out whose shoulders I’m standing on,” Rae says. “It was like seeing your television ancestors all in one place.” Citing Debbie Allen’s choice to tackle the issue of race head-on in A Different World, a departure from Bill Cosby’s original intention for the series, she says, “I’m just proud of the little protests that everyone has had to do to enable us to do us. I hope that we’re brave enough to be able to carry that through.”

“I knew the onus was going to be on us to represent all Black women because we just didn’t have a lot of shows featuring Black women then,” she says. Comparing her experience with that of a predominantly “white show” like Big Little Lies, she continues, “Nobody’s coming for Nicole Kidman like, ‘Bitch, you don’t represent every white woman. Fuck you.’” But such is the “special scrutiny” of Black work. “Every Black show gets it. Every Black piece of work gets scrutiny because we’re sensitive about our shit.”

“I said from the jump during the promo tour: ‘This is a very specific Black female experience — it’s my specific one — we cannot represent all of that.’ And even now people are still like, ‘This doesn’t represent me, this is not it, this is the only representation that we have,’ and I realize that’s just a constant complaint with whatever you put out.”

Perhaps the most significant thing about Insecure is the way that, in increasing measures through each season, it refuses to center its world around white people — a unique privilege for a Black TV show.

When I ask Rae about the lessons she hopes to pass to people of color who want to follow in her footsteps, she launches into the role of the white gaze in her work: “From the jump in creating the show, it was put in my mind that you had to have a white character to be a bridge, and for people to care, for it to get awards, for it to be considered worthy of the television canon.”

In Awkward Black Girl, one of the two main love interests is White Jay, a white man that Rae’s character spends the first season in a will-they-or-won’t-they back and forth. She tells me that the character was added at the advice of a colleague.

“She was just like, ‘Girl, if you want this shit to set off to the next level, you got to put a white character in there, then white people will care about it, then NPR is going to write about your shit, and it’ll blow up,’” Rae tells me. “And then it literally happened.” This thinking stuck with her as she began to develop Insecure.

[From Mic]

Sigh, it is 2021 ya’ll. Why are white executives still rolling out this bullsh*t? This is the same mindset that Hollywood has been preaching for years, with the lie that no one would see a movie with a Black lead, despite all evidence to the contrary. No one ever says all-white shows and movies need to add a Black or brown person to the cast so that people care. I’m looking at you, Friends and Seinfeld, but whatever. We know that this is a myth, all you have to do is ask Tyler Perry. I do not recall a single white person in the early Madea movies and a lot of white people were watching those. I can go as far back as the Cosby Show and a Different World. The white people were sprinkled in occasionally and yet those were some of the most popular shows of their time. The idea for Friends was colonized from an all Black cast show, Living Single, and before Friends was released, Living Single was doing quite well. I know plenty of white people who watch shows and movies that do not have white people in their casts.

I am so happy that Issa does not cave to the pressures of making her projects more palatable to a white audience. I also love that Issa makes it clear that her shows are not meant to represent all Black people either. Issa’s life and experiences are specific to her and she writes from that place. I am looking forward to the final season of Insecure and watching Issa Rae’s future projects. If this topic comes up again to Issa, all she has to do is cite how wildly popular her show Insecure was with an all Black cast.

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