Pioneering the Groove
Issa Rae, 35, operates in a unique space. In a world where going viral on the Internet can launch someone’s career, fifteen minutes of fame feel like fifteen seconds. But that doesn’t faze everyone. Rae has been able to capture the minds and hearts of audiences with her thought-provoking work, proving that she has that je ne sais quoi.
Rae is a writer, actress, producer, and director who began her journey as a college student at Stanford University. While embracing African/African-American studies, she wanted to film her friends and capture the overall buzz of dorm life. Thus, Dorm Diaries was born, a YouTube series with a mockumentary vibe, which was her first real foray into online-content creation at a time when YouTube was in its infancy.
Next came The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl. As a college graduate with more life experience under her belt, Rae created this show to highlight the lives of young black professionals in a major city.
When asked if her multi-faceted abilities have earned her more respect from execs, Rae responds, “It helps, I do get a lot of opportunities.” But she also believes that social media and the Internet, along with the ability to bring her work directly to the masses, made such a difference. “I definitely don’t think this was possible back in the day,” she adds, referring to the ’90s and 2000s when the Internet was still a new way of communicating. For someone like Rae, creating back in those days and waiting on a big studio that’d greenlight you could have been the kiss of death; her ability to take initiative with not only creating characters but sharing content has put her in a class of her own.
When it comes to her hit TV show, Insecure, Rae made sure that her characters were layered. “I like writing dimensional people, writing rich characters,” she says of her beloved characters like Lawrence Walker and Molly Carter. She draws lots of inspiration from her life, people that she knows, and their experiences, and this is probably the reason why viewers from many different backgrounds can relate to the characters. As a matter of fact, trying to “break through” the industry is what made Rae so intentional about creating her art.
Currently, Rae is working with her namesake production company on lots of new projects (“We’re writing a couple of shows, just creating”). Additionally, she is expanding her acting career by starring in other films. She enjoys showcasing her acting chops, especially when it involves working with friends she respects and admires. For instance, in The Photograph, she starred as a famous photographer’s daughter that gets swept into a romance with a journalist played by LaKeith Stanfield. “I learned a lot from him,” she says as both Rae and Stanfield have been bringing textured and raw performances – and content – to the new-age audience. They’re trying to change the lens through which people see actors.
On the social side, Rae gives back to her community through her involvement with Destination Crenshaw that features artwork from local creatives on Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. “Destination Crenshaw understands that this is a black area with black history, and they respect that,” she shares.
Writer: Leonye McCalla
Photographers & Videographers: Eleanor & Brian Love
Stylist: Jason Rembert
Stylist Assistant: Sakinah Séla Bashir
Hair: Ashley Noel
Makeup: Joanna Simkin
Manicurist: Shauna Ursery
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to Asian Box (@asianbox - www.asianbox.com) & EPK Media (@myepk & @epkmedia - epkmedia.com)