From One Awkward Black Girl To Another, Thanks Issa Rae
When I first heard HBO ordered a pilot for Issa Rae’s hit Youtube series “Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” it took several rounds of “Hallelujer” and “Yes, Lordt” before reality settled in.
I wondered: Would HBO pick up the series, written and produced by Rae and “The Nightly Show” host Larry Wilmore?
There’s certainly a market and audience for it. Her collection of hilariously self-deprecating essays under the same title as her web series is currently sitting atop the New York Times’ bestseller list. But she’s transitioning into the mainstream at a time when the majority of the roles on cable television for Black women can be divided into several categories.
First you have the sassy diva/sidekick/best friend with zero fucks to give and no filter on her infinite street wisdom. Then you have the wealthy, accomplished, successful professional with dark hidden secrets, often involving married cuddy buddies. Oh, and let’s not forget about Ratchet #5 with a 50-inch-long magenta sew-in secured with Pump it Up in the event of an impromptu throwdown with Ratchet #6.
Let’s be clear: I support having complex and layered Black characters on television. And there are possibly more Black characters on major network shows than ever before. Yet, these men and women still only make up a small percentage of the overall actors and actresses on TV. So, when you have a small amount of women representing what are supposed to be various incarnations of an entire population of people, it’s impossible not to see a trend in the depictions.
Yes they’re smart. Yes they’re career-driven. Yes they’re beautiful. Yes they’re overtly sexy and sexual. Yes they’re independent.
But are they dowdy? Are they sexually exploratory? Are they forgetful? Are they silly? Are they financially struggling, still figuring out their lives and careers?
It’s like walking into the cafeteria with your Converses and “Avada Kedavra, Bitch” sweatshirt on only to realize that every table is full of Queen Bees, with only a rickety three-legged table in the corner next to the bathroom and trash can reserved for “others.”
“But it’s just entertainment, Jackie. It’s not that serious.”
FOH. Rae is hilarious and entertaining. But heaven forbid you have something that’s all of the above and different. Somehow, others have managed to tap into these audiences and make money off of them, with shows including “The Mindy Project,” “Girls,” “New Girl,” “Two Broke Girls,” “Awkward” and “Ugly Betty.”
But, there’s a herd of awkward, nerdy, goofy, introverted, Harry Potter-loving, bicycle-riding Black women like me rooting for Queen Rae’s dominance over the one-dimensional media Gods.
Her stories remind pimply teenage girls with morbidly obese rolling backpacks to prevent further damage to already Quasimodo-like posture that being awkward simply means you’re authentic enough to not let cool points (or a lack thereof) deter you from being yourself.
Now before you think this is about to delve into the world’s saddest song on the world’s tiniest violin with Mary J. doing vocals, remember that many of the idiosyncrasies that make us awkward and a little bit odd also make us creative and interesting and complicated and unique. Finding someone that embraces, celebrates and reflects those differences on a national scale means the world.
So, if the Network-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named doesn’t pick up her show…well, you’ve been warned.