Before HBO’s Insecure, there was the hit YouTube series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl – that alone was raw, innovative and hip. After this came Pharrell, who hosted the 2nd season on his YouTube channel. Then very casually, Issa was on an Essence magazine cover titled ‘Game changers’ along with Shonda Rhimes, Ava Duvernay, Mara Brock Akil and Debbie Allen. The HBO aired Insecure, which happened to be the first network show to feature a black lead. Everything looks like a walk in the park but it is her hard work that paid off. I even read today that there were two web series before The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, but Issa Rae never gave up. And she proved that when the content is there, it is possible to stand out in these spaces that are packed, jammed, overcrowded and not accessible for the average, not “well”-connected agent-less filmmaker.
The efforts are 10 times worth the rewards as Insecure is the realest of deals! From beginning to end, the sitcom is refreshingly blunt, lit and funny with soundtracks that never disappoint! The cinematography is vibrant with alluring colours, while at the same time the imagery still feels natural and relatable, for which I hold music videos genius, Melina Matsoukas responsible! The brain behind ‘Formation’ and ‘Losing You’ could only add layers of dopeness to this much needed nuanced portrayal of the black female experience. There’s even more awesomeness to the mix as television host, Larry Wilmore and web documentarist, Cecile Emeke are also on board.
But what really gets me excited, is the fact that the executive producer and lead actress is African. It was in the process of reading Issa Rae's memoir that I discovered her family name was in fact Diop … Diop like Cheikh Anta Diop, Boubacar Boris Diop, Birago Diop … yes, the chick is (well half) Senegalese! Moreover, Yvonne Orji who plays best friend Molly is Nigerian, making with her 2-episode date Classic Man Jidenna the ultimate #NaijaBond.
You might say it is minor information as the roles they play are not African, but it matters because representation ignites motivation. Issa Rae’s YouTube hit has, on its own, already proved to be a catalyst for many projects in this nature. Without searching any further, Issa Rae’s co-star Yvonne Orji is working on a sitcom centered on a Nigerian girl navigating life between her career and her conservative Nigerian family. Another example would be the Accra-shot series “an African City” that was inspired by Awkward Black Girl success on YouTube.
I am so here for Insecure second season! I need Issa and Lawrence to get back together … but more importantly, I am eager to see the ripple effect Issa Rae is going to provoke this time with Insecure. For too long, we’ve been watching a range of Black series from Family Matters, Cosby Show to My Wife and Kids, watching the African-American culture to relate while mainstream media persistently portrays Africans as one-dimensional objects of pity. But in a time marked by unprecedented African prominence – from Barack Obama in the White House to Lupita Nyong’o, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Uzo Aduba, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Trevor Noah, we have the power in our hands to keep reversing the bias and show that we exist and are relatable too.
It is too soon to cry for victory but if Issa Rae taught us something is that no content is niche. It’s upon us to carve out and harvest audiences with content that truly speaks to us.
Note that this doesn’t have to be done with Fresh Prince of Bel-Air speaking with a Nigerian accent.