Comm 137 Spr 2016
When looking at particular women of color in filmmaking history, Issa Rae is considered as one individual who has stepped outside the box of Hollywood standard films. For one she was known and discovered for her innovative and unique online content. As a producer, writer, and director of web content, she started her career in filmmaking from personal experiences of her own life. Her interests in filmmaking began in high school as she had experience in directing and producing plays as well as starting her first web series her Senior year. After studying African American Studies and Political Science from Stanford she moved onto trying to ground herself as a videographer and editor. Eventually, Rae became fed up with the types of “black movies” she had seen in Hollywood that don’t necessarily illustrate realistic portrayals of black culture, however, reproduce stereotypical views based off of prototypes of society. She initiated a black film blog making her criticisms of these black films. Responses that she received eventually inspired her to make her own films which initiated the making of her now well known popular web series The Misadventures of the Awkward Black Girl (“ISSA RAE DOCUMENTARY”). The success of this web series sparked even more opportunity for Rae. Since then, she has been able to work with even bigger names stemming from both the music and film industry. Some of those names include Pharrell Williams who has helped to continue with the production of The Misadventures of the Awkward Black Girl into it’s second season, and Tracey Edmonds also a black woman filmmaker whom she has also collaborated with on web series The Choir (issarae.com). These collaborations then added to her Internet fame as well as leading towards her decision to get into mainstream television. She made this decision not necessarily to continue and broaden her fame outside of the Internet scape, but to broaden the opportunities and visibilities for people of color to be in part of behind the scenes filmmaking.
In trying to achieve this goal, Rae has currently been working to create more web series that feature work from other filmmakers of color whom are featured on her YouTube channel. Through this networking and collaboration, Rae is helping to create a diverse network for those who aim to achieve more through film as women, women minorities and generally for those who aspire to transcend and give voice to those who are limited to having one within the film industry. One of those platforms that exists today brought up by Rae is Color Creative TV. Color Creative TV was initiated by Rae to help women filmmakers and minorities showcase their works in the internal and external means of producing film (CoCre.TV). This outlet generates more awareness of open possibilities to filmmaking for those who are seeking on screen opportunities. This then allows them to not only put out their works for recognition but to also identify oneself in media with authenticity, just as Rae has done. Rae’s works have derived from trying to understand her own identity as a woman of color which then expanded towards giving others a voice of reason to follow in her footsteps to transcend and transform what mainstream media is today.
To illustrate how one episode of “Awkward Black Girl” showcases topics of black identity, in the episode titled “The Job” protagonist J, who is played by Rae herself, is poked at and judged by her on screen boss for the way J’s hair is done opposed to her own. Her boss’s ignorant remarks causes J to go on a rant about her remarks such as, “Did it shrink?” “Do you wash it?” “Can you wash it?” “It reminds me of pubic hair, can I touch it?” (“AWKWARD Black Girl”). J addresses the situation in different dialogue with herself through her monologue and then flashes back to the reality of her situations. In this particular scene, Jay tells herself, “Situations like these make me angry and uncomfortable. I would love to express that to her, but I’m passive aggressive and I hate confrontation. So I just hold my feelings inside until..” which then proceeds to show how her boss tries to touch her hair and J smacks her in the face. J’s internal monologues help to portray racial politics through exaggerated humor in order for the audience to get a sense of where lines are crossed in terms of cultural dualities of white and black culture. From this episode, concepts of the veil are highlighted. As explained in Professor Robyn Charles’s lecture on “The Veil” and “Double Consciousness”, J’s boss’s perspective of J’s hair suggests the physical demarcation of difference from whiteness (Charles 2016).
Rae talks about her future endeavors in mainstream television in a featured online series called Off Color, “I want to see that marriage between independence and mainstream. It’s stupid but I’ll feel more of a sense of validation. We’re doing great things but there’s still a desire for acknowledgement.” She continues to explain her motivations for her work, “Everyone has felt awkward or uncomfortable or socially misfit at some point in their lives. For some reason, on mainstream television black people have not been allowed that since the nineties in a way” (Hodge, Vega, and Jensen). Rae’s films address real life experiences in satirical form as a way to relate black experiences to universal ones. Through Rae’s wide variety of works and motivations to expand the one directional view of stereotyped characters of color on screen, she has been able to target issues of race, identity, and lack of diversity in public spheres such as mainstream and social media. All in all, Rae has created not only a different outlook of black experiences and diversity on screen but as well as behind the scenes of media. Soon enough there will be more Issa Rae’s of the filmmaking industry.
Charles, Robyn. “IDENTITY.” Communication 137. University of California, San Diego, California. 12 April 2016.
CoCre.TV. Color Creative, 2016. Web. 25 April 2016.
Hodge, C., Tanzina, V., & Taige, J. “Off Color Comedy: Issa Rae”. TimesVideo. The New York Times, 27 Oct 2014. Web.
Rae, Issa. “AWKWARD Black Girl | “The Job” [S. 1, Ep. 2]”. Youtube. Youtube, 3 March 2011. Web.