Showing what being black means

Issa Rae, who created and stars in the TV series Insecure, wants to show a uniquely black experience and steer away from stereotypes

Issa Rae with Yvonne Orji.
Issa Rae with Yvonne Orji.PHOTO: HBO ASIA

Black people are cool, they can dance, are fierce, flawless or out of control.

Those are the images that are often seen in the media, but black writer-director-actress Issa Rae, 31, points out: "I'm not any of those things, can't do any of those things."

She was drawn to develop a television series at HBO after the breakout success of her YouTube series Awkward Black Girl (2011- 2013).

She has more than 216,000 subscribers and her clips have reportedly chalked up more than 20 million views.

Insecure, which she created and stars in, is about two female friends dealing with the world around them and with the men in their lives.

Just making sure there is no singular black experience is the most important thing.

WRITER-DIRECTOR-ACTRESS ISSA RAE (with Yvonne Orji on her comedy show Insecure)

She plays Issa Dee, Yvonne Orji plays her friend Molly and Jay Ellis is Lawrence, Issa's live-in boyfriend.

It premieres on HBO today at 10.30am.

Together with sitcoms such as Fresh Off The Boat, which features an Asian-American family, and Black-ish, about an upper-middle-class African-American family, Insecure is helping to add some colour and diversity to a still overwhelmingly white television landscape in the United States.

Speaking to the media at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, Rae says: "We're getting better behind the scenes, which is most important because that leads to in front of the cameras. Right now, if you can name five shows of colour, that's already progress from just a couple of years ago. I just hope that's not a trend."

With Insecure, she wanted to show a uniquely black experience and steer away from those ubiquitous stereotypes.

"Just making sure there is no singular black experience is the most important thing."

Her experience is, er, one-of- a-kind and no-holds-barred. Already, in the first episode, there is a scene in which she does a freestyle rap about a broken p**** (vagina).

Asked how that "broken p****" idea came about, she said it came from a real-life situation.

She and her friend gave their vaginas the voice of animated character Marge Simpson and made approving or disapproving noises depending on whether they wanted to sleep with a guy they were checking out.

Ever the performer, she re-enacted the Marge Simpson voice to great hilarity to the table of journalists.

Asked how her mother, whom Rae names as an inspiration, reacted to the show, she says: "She saw the pilot a couple of weeks ago. There's a lot of language. She pulled me aside and she was like: 'That mouth, we're gonna wash it out. But good job!'"

At the same time, Rae sees Insecure as more than just a black show. "I hope that everybody who watches it will take what they want out of it and take something positive and relate in some way. Even if you don't relate, just enjoy it."

•Insecure premieres on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) today at 10.30am, at the same time as the US, with a same-day encore at 10.30pm. It is also available on HBO On Demand (StarHub TV Channel 602).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2016, with the headline 'Showing what being black means'. Print Edition | Subscribe