Issa Rae on why it’s important for her to give back to L.A.
“Insecure” showrunner and L.A. native Issa Rae returned to her old stamping grounds Saturday afternoon to participate in a conversation and meet-and-greet as part of Macy’s Celebrates Black History Month series.
Held at the Macy’s store in Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, the 40-minute conversation, hosted by Clevver entertainment host Emile Ennis Jr., drew hundreds of people eager to hear Rae speak about her inspirations and rise through the industry.
“I came to this mall all the time as a kid,” Rae told The Times. Born in L.A., she also lived in Potomac, Md., and Dakar, Senegal, before spending her adolescent years in Windsor Hills.
“This area is really important to me. It’s important to me to be in the community and show that I’m here,” she said. “To be able to do this in my hometown, down the street from where I lived, is a privilege.”
Rae pays homage to the city by shooting “Insecure” on location, often giving nods to local businesses. But off-screen, the actress and producer also increases visibility and opportunity for locals by hosting events through her company Issa Rae Productions.
In the aisle between Macy’s Material Girl and Guess Jeans racks, first-come, first-serve seats filled up as early as 30 minutes before the conversation started. A crowd of people (mostly black women) opted to stand toward the back after the hundred-plus seats were taken.
“We constantly do events in Inglewood and try to show people in the neighborhood that we are here, we’re around, we’re available,” Rae said.
“It gets hard to manage, but those events are fun. Because it’s kind of why I got into [the business] in the first place. Those are the kinds of events I wish I had. I wish I had access to the people that I looked up to or that I wanted to be like, just because I wanted to find the easiest way or the most resourceful way to break into the industry.”
One of those events, Rae’s “A Sip” series, is an unscripted fireside chat with top black talent in the industry; director Ava DuVernay and “black-ish” showrunner Kenya Barris have been guests in the past).
“For ‘A Sip,’ it’s hearing out of the mouths of people who were just where you were a couple months ago, a couple years ago, and hearing about that journey,” she said. “I’m always down to share the nitty-gritty of the journey, because I’m still on it.”
Rae, who gained respect through her “Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” web series before going on to create “Insecure” for HBO, was recently criticized on Twitter for providing visibility only for a “certain kind” of black person.
Dubbed “blavity black” (after the millennial media company and website), the argument was that Rae — and contemporaries like Donald Glover and “2 Dope Queens” star Jessica Williams — represent solely black people who grew up in well-to-do white suburbs and who create stories that white audiences deem palatable.
“It’s interesting,” Rae said. “But it’s not anything new, the language just changes. There’s always going to be a debate about who’s being represented, if one group feels like another group is overrepresented.
“I remember back when I was in college, it was like, ‘Why are we always showing oppressed blacks or hood black stories?’ And now there’s a taste of other types of black life that’s being shown, and another group that isn’t being represented is like, ‘I’m tired of seeing this, what’s the next one?’
“It just comes with the territory. If anything, it’s just going to prompt people to continue to create and tell the stories that they want to see, which is great all around.”
Judging by the 1.1 million viewers who tuned into the Season 2 premiere of “Insecure,” she needn’t worry about catering to everyone. Shooting for the series’ third season begins next month, and Rae, who is also working on “writing a couple of movies and developing some more shows for HBO and other networks,” is tight-lipped about it: “You can expect us to try a couple of different things this season.”
As for how she plans to celebrate Black History Month, Rae’s celebration involves the entire writers room of “Insecure.”
“We do something every year,” she said. “The first year, we made everybody in the room share an unknown black-history fact. And then the second year, we made people dress up as like an unknown black-history person and tell the story, do a little presentation.
“This year, we’re switching it up, and it’s going to get a little dangerous in the room, because not everybody is black but we’re doing made-up black facts. Some people are worried, but we’re family, so we’ll see what happens. And, you know, this may end the room.”
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