Featured, Pop Culture, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

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.

Jackie Woods

Jackie Woods is a Southern transplant and HBCU grad in search of decent sweet tea and cheese grits outside her mama's kitchen. When not mixing DIY beauty products, she's awaiting the resurgence of R&B groups.

  • pls

    Those other awkward girl shows definitely bit issa’s swag.

  • MamaDay

    I’m so happy and excited for her. I loved her book and when she came to DC for her book tour she was hilarious. She’s such an inspiration for fellow awkward black girls and I just hope that her show is soo successful that she gets even more opportunities.

  • I started watching Issa Rae’s Dorm Diaries and Fly Guys prior to her releasing The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and she is a breath of fresh air.

    While I like Scandal, I can’t relate to Olivia Pope and I am not Mary Jane. But, I am a young, awkward Black woman who is trying to navigate life. I like seeing people like me represented if not on T.V, on the internet. This is why I prefer web series (Black&Sexy T.V, Black Actress, and Issa Rae) overshows on TV. the creators have more freedom to express their art.

    I am continuing to root for Issa Rae’s success.

  • Pinks

    I have plans to pick up this book this week. Love her spirit.

  • MeridianBurst

    From one awkward black girl to another…<3

    "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."

    There's PLENTY of reason to be happy when you can relate to a black girl that's just as awkward, but also just as wonderful. There's nothing but good times and full smiles ahead, and even though it's hard to believe something so magical could withstand everything you throw at it, it's always there. It's always embraced. It's always celebrated. It's always reflected for everyone to see. Being an oddball is never going to hinder amazing things happening because there's always someone who's going to find that worth cherishing. Even better when it's done on this scale.

    I wish nothing but good things for her and all the joy her heart can stand.

  • I am here for the exploration of awkward black girls psyche and experiences as an awkward black man. Like actually awkward and uncomfortable not cool women with some ~ weird~ quirk or interest.

    • MeridianBurst

      Exploration of the awkward is always a good thing.

    • Success Is Certain


  • MsSula

    I absolutely love whatever Issa does. Her brand of funny is smart and fun and just good.. I am actually a Patreon and everything! So go, go Issa!

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Its for HBO. Not Fox. The show will be fine, just becaue it is HBO. Had it been Netflix, the approach would be the same. As long as it isn’t on primetime network televsion, Isa will be able to show her vision for everyone to see.

    If you don’t believe that, then watch Girls. 10 years ago, there’s no f-ing way Lisa Dunam and her Stooge brigade would have been able to make that show, let alone have Judd Apatow produce it. And yet it became a cultural phenomenon. Same thing with Broad City on Comedy Central. Now we are about to have ours.

    Cheer up.

    • Louie does well on FX as far as a network not compromising it’s vision. It costs like 4 half pennies to produce though.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        But it’s also because FX takes risks aND is in that winner circle of networks that air shows that wouldn’t work on the big 5

  • cancergirl08

    Love Issa Rae. I supported the Kickstarter campaign and even bought an ABG sweatshirt! I watch Scandal and can sadly see parts of myself in Being Mary Jane, but the great thing is there is starting to be more room for the representation of all types of black women, including different types of awkward black women. I’m the weave-wearing, can’t flirt to save my life, stay in on a Friday night to read a book (non-science fiction) and laugh when I”m nervous type of awkward. As with everything, there are levels. Black and Sexy TV is another Youtube channel with diverse,complex and interesting black women, particularly their new series Sexless.

  • Nina

    We definitely need more awkward black women on TV. Sure, plenty of us are outspoken, smart, stylish, sexy, career-driven, etc. But we’re also introverted, game-challenged, nerdy, and goofy–I’ve been told I’m the female Carlton, so I should know :-)

More Like This