|Awkward Black Girl|
|beautiful issa rae|
written by: karimu abena hamilton
interview with: issa rae
Awkward Black Girl is a successful web series produced by Issa Rae that explores a day in the shoes of a young African American Woman. In ABG the web series main character “Jay” humorously goes through the daily challenges of everyday life; from the complexities of dating a white man, managing difficult co-workers and supervisor (which resulted in anger management classes), to finding her rhythm at a friend’s birthday party. This production and its colorful casts put Issa Rae in the category of visionary, producer, entertainer, comedienne and entrepreneur. The internet has become a platform of visibility for authentic progressive African American artists. The entertainment industry has limited the portrayal of black women in the three primary contexts; jezebel, sapphire and or mammy. Issa Rae’s brilliant production of Awkward Black Girl is an act of resistance towards these negative portrayals and provides viewers with an alternative. The ABG production challenges the notion of what is marketable with almost 9 million online viewers; ABG suggests that there is a strong interest in seeing the authenticity and lifestyle of progressive African American Women. With the Twitter best web series award under her belt and an upcoming season to launch; the Awkward Black Girl brand is here to stay. i experienced so much transcendental joy when watching this production i wanted to share it with the world. i had an opportunity to interview her briefly and here are some pressing answers to questions that i hope would answer some of your questions as well. karimu abena hamilton
1).What is your ethnic background? Where are you from? How were you raised? Describe your childhood, your parents….what was your immediate childhood setting like?
I am Senegalese American. My dad is Senegalese and my mom is from Louisiana. I was born in L.A., lived in Senegal, Maryland and L.A -- the middle of five kids. Three boys, two girls (including me).
2).I think that the web is a wonderful medium for entrepreneurs such as you… the web to me clearly exemplifies what has been titled the “free market” would you discuss with me how you got your start in this business?
I was feeling pressured by my father to go to grad school and kept watching my friends pursue their careers and I refused to go the same route. I had been sitting on the idea for two years, making excuses about why I couldn't do it, and then I read an article in Clutch Magazine where the writer was asking, "Where's the Black Liz Lemon?" After reading her article I panicked that someone else would read it and create my idea before me. I stopped making excuses as to why I couldn't do it and just called up my friends and shot it guerilla style.
3).White Jay…That speaks to me on so many different levels…the title is humorous …but there is more to it. It sort of taps into the collective unconsciousness…tell me more about White Jay..
White Jay, or "Jay" as he was written in the script, was initially supposed to be a one episode character. We inserted him because Tracy (our producer) thought that having a white character would attract a white audience AND we wanted to include some temporary competition for Fred. However, after we aired the fifth episode, the comments were full of "#TeamWhiteJay" supporters. Thus, a fan-created love triangle was formed as we continued to develop this character. For the record, viewers named him "White Jay" not us.
4).I stumbled upon your web-series by accident ….and it was one of the most pleasurable experiences that I have had in the context of visual entertainment in a very long time… It was a transcendental moment and I was able to experience free joy and entertainment without anger or judgment. What forms oentertainment did you indulge in during your child hood and later as an adult? What are your influences?
Thank you! As a child, I pretty much watched everything. I remember vividly watching SNICK on Nickelodeon and TGIF on Fridays and thinking that I wanted to be a part of those shows in some way. Then 90s television came along, in all of its black glory and I loved seeing people who looked like me on television. But then when those shows started disappearing, I started related to shows like Seinfeld, The Office, Arrested Development and 30 Rock, but those shows didn't really have many characters of color, if any at all, so I sought to change that.
5). I believe that I am an awkward black girl…talk to me about her, who is she? How much of her is in you? How did you come up with that concept?
"Awkward Black Girl" is an extension of me. She's just insecure in her environment and doesn't really know how to handle what most people would deem simple social situations. She's also awkward in the sense that she's not "typically" black. She's not mainstream media's depiction of black women by any means.
6).Awkward Black Girl …I love the branding concept where are you going with this from a marketing perspective …I see the t-shirts and other paraphernalia ….Outside of you’re a new season which we are all waiting for what is next for ABG?
I actually came up with the brand, "I'm Awkward. And Black" before I came up with the series. I believed strongly in the identity as a brand and hope to expand it enough so that it can sustain itself, without the series. Also, I'd love to do an "Awkward Black Girl" film. That would be awesome.
7). Discuss with me your production team and what is your role ?
Everybody who works on ABG has like 10 roles. I direct, produce, write, act and edit. Tracy acts, produces and writes. Shea is our cinematographer, director, editor, cameraman. Benoni & Madison handle our sales, marketing and social media strategy. For season 2, we're looking to divvy some of those roles to others.
8).What advice do you have for producers of all genres in terms of getting there work out there for the world to see and the spirit of constancy ?
Work with like-minded, dedicated individuals to produce content. Be extremely patient. Release it online!