Issa Rae, the “Awkward Black Girl” of award-winning web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, talks about turning down TV execs and scoring independent funding for her upcoming second season.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl goes against everything the mainstream media knows about making a hit TV show.
Issa Rae directs and stars as Jay, a black woman who is not a size zero, as she navigates through life’s many awkward and embarrassing moments. Through YouTube, Rae has found a huge international audience, proving that you don’t have to be a white man to be an entertainment success.
“[J]ust because she’s a black female lead doesn’t mean you can’t relate to her,” Rae once told NPR. “And I think that that speaks more to mainstream media because there just is this sort of perception that, you know, if a black person is in the lead, then it has to be for black people.”
From faking phone conversations in order to avoid coworkers, to dropping a tampon out of her purse in front of a date, there’s now no doubt that Jay’s awkward moments are universally relatable. Today, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl has 450,000 viewers, a Shorty Award for Best Web Show, and funding from rapper Pharrell Williams’ creative company, iamOTHER.
It’s a far cry from last summer, when Rae and her cohorts were concerned that if they couldn’t meet their Kickstarter goal, they wouldn’t be able to afford the second half of the season. That all changed when Williams contacted her, Rae told Essence.
“Mimi Valdes, the Creative Director for Pharrell’s company iamOTHER, contacted me, said that he was a fan and organized a call between us,” she said. “He raved about the show and I was freaking out. It was unreal.”
Rae said that although she’d never felt comfortable working with TV producers, concerned that they would alter the diverse message of her show, she felt right at home with Williams.
“When I told him about the issues I’d had in meetings with television executives and how they wanted to change my show, he said, ‘I don’t want to touch it, I just want you to do you and be part of my channel,’” she said. “He just got it and he’s funding our entire season.”
True to her awkward alter ego, Jay, Rae told Essence she still gets nervous when she comes to terms with her YouTube celebrity through meeting with fans.
“It feels great but it’s embarrassing. Every time I’m recognized in public, I’m super grateful and appreciative but I also get hot and nervous.”
On Thursday, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl debuts season two with all financial problems behind it. We’ve reached out to Rae to chat in advance.
Photo via The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl
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