by Shantella Y. Sherman
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper
The world is full of African-American girls who have little rhythm, tend to be unsure of themselves in social situations, and who consider themselves, awkward. However, unlike those who grew up in the 1980s who turned introvert and found solace in mountains of books, today’s awkward Black girls need look no further than writer-actress Issa Rae, to find an ally and gain their social footing. Born in America to Senegalese parents, Rae’s experiences living in Dakar, the D.C. area, and Los Angeles, helped shape her awkwardness and became the framework for the breakout web series.
The explosive popularity of Rae’s award-winning net-series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, signaled a collective embrace of weird and relatable experiences. The series, which has garnered more than 25 million views and close to 200,000 subscribers on YouTube, follows the social and racial mishaps of a 20-something office worker through a continuous set of unnerving situations. The success of the web series spawned a book by the same name, which recently became a New York Times bestseller.
“It’s an honor to see that the character has resonated with people because I had no idea there were so many of us out there. It is reassuring and validating, which makes me overwhelmed with happiness. From the first episode I began getting letters and people were identifying with it and claiming their awkwardness,” Rae said.
However, the eureka moment when Rae realized the success of the show came when she ran out of money to produce Misadventures and began a Kickstarter campaign to fund it. “[My producer and I] set our goal at thirty thousand and raised almost double that. That was a testament to me that people were willing to pay to see [the show],” Rae said.
At a book talk sponsored by the Oracle Group and D.C. Public Library, Rae told the standing-room only crowd that creating the images she was not seeing on television was her initial aim with the web series and that social media has had a tremendous influence on getting diverse Black representation onto network television. “Social media changed the game in that you’re seeing all of these tweets, you’re seeing all these trending topics from Black people who are expressing what they want to see. Now people take notice. I want to interrupt the system. I want to have people of color be relatable, because we are,” Rae said. “I’ve always had an issue with the [assumption] that people of color, and Black people especially, aren’t relatable. I know we are.”
Named twice to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, Rae said having Black people and those representing other cultures in positions of power at television networks is essential in showing the diversity within the race.
“You cannot put a definition on [Blackness]. And that is part of what I set out to prove because I feel that for too long the mainstream media has tried to limit what Blackness can be. Some of us have felt we needed to limit it too. We’re so much and such a beautiful and vast people, that it becomes really unnecessary,” Rae said.
In the book The Misadventures of Black Awkward Girl, Rae covers everything from cyber-sexing and weight gain, to eating out alone, and public displays of affection. Rae is currently in talks with HBO about a new, yet-named television series.