The Prototype: "Awkward Black Girl" Creator Issa Rae

The award-nominated series “The Prototype” was inspired by Brooklyn Bloggess Jamilah Lemieux’s “Happy Black Girl Day!” This once-a-month holiday allows us to take a break from the constant media assault on Black women and to celebrate the sisterhood with showers of positivity. The way I choose to celebrate HBGD is by highlighting an extraordinary and prototypical Black woman.

The August 2011 Prototype:  Issa Rae, Creator, Writor, Actress, and Executive Producer of “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.”

Move all the way to the left, Tyler Perry.  The multi-talented and hilarious Issa Rae has stepped up to the plate to deliver a new kind of Black female character — the Awkward Black Girl.  In her latest webseries, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,”  26-year-old Issa Rae becomes the solution to the problem of never seeing characters she can relate to in the media by creating “J,” a natural-haired sister who isn’t ghetto, or angry, or loud, or downtrodden in need of a savior, or loose, or sassy or pick a black female stereotype.  J is just your average girl, trying to navigate the world, work, and dating — while being socially awkward. Watch the latest episode (WARNING: PROFANITY):

Launched online in February 2011, fans have tuned in every month to see the gut-busting Misadventures. With YouTube views in the 100,000s, Issa is still overwhelmed by the success of the series:

I was never looking or expecting to have a global voice [when I launched The Misadventures]. I wanted to showcase a different side of my writing and my sense of humor and I thought [the series] would appeal to my circle of friends. I had no idea that through word of mouth the series would spread like it has.  I grew up with my 5 siblings — all of whom are funnier than I am– and I wanted to be like them, growing up.  As I got older, our humor really aligned, but I thought it was unique to my family.  I didn’t realize our humor was universal until I started making friends later in life who found me funny, and I started to think maybe my sense of humor would appeal to more people. But I had no idea that the series would reach London, Australia and all of these different places. There was no strategy involved in anyway.

Issa’s no-strategy, “Just Do It” attitude has served her well over the years.  As a kid, she tracked down the director of Love & Basketball, Gina Prince-Bythewood, and sent Gina a script she’d written herself, hoping Gina would attach herself to the project.  Issa dedicates her confidence that nothing and no one is out of her reach to her mother — and her naivete

 My mom always instilled confidence in me and my siblings. At that time, I had been in L.A. for a minute and that’s the land of opportunity, so I took a chance [by reaching out to Gina]. I just believed in my project and myself and I thought she would understand me and understand the project.  I was naive to think she would actually direct this awful script I’d written, but I was so excited when she responded to me.  She congratulated me on finishing a script at 16 and said she’d love to read my script but she was only focusing on her projects (she had just done Disappearing Acts). But her message was really nice and encouraging and meant everything to me. I definitely took her advice to heart.  

Ten years later, Issa is well on her way to being a creative force in Hollywood, in her own right. With three webseries under her belt (including the riot of a show “The F Word,” starring her brother enimaL and his rap group “The Fly Guys”) Issa recently quit her job at a non-profit to focus full-time on her own projects. Though she says she is “broke,” she says she’d regret not taking this chance to fulfill this dream:

I just knew that if I stayed at a job that has nothing to do with my end goals, I would never be able to complete all of what was being asked of me. I’d be wasting an opportunity and I’d regret it forever. Not having money for a little while stinks. But I’ll struggle now and hopefully that won’t be the case in the near future.

The odds are definitely in her favor on that front.  After having no money whatsoever to produce the rest of season 1 of The Misadventures, Issa Rae and her producer and co-star Tracy Oliver(who plays mean girl Nina on the show) set up a campaign to raise $30,000 to produce the episode. In just two weeks, her loyal fans nearly doubled her request and raised over $56,000. And that’s just the beginning. Issa and Tracy have written a treatment for the show, to bring it to television and are currently waiting on notes from producers.   You may see the lovable J on your small screen very soon!

To anyone else who wants to make their art available to the masses, Issa encourages everyone to use the internet. With no gatekeepers telling you who does and doesn’t have what it takes, you can create your own stories and build your own audience with a computer, an internet connection, a video camera, and Final Cut:

Just pick up your camera, get your friends together and just make it happen. That’s the only way it’s going to get done. Social media is just invaluable. Your work will speak for itself. If people like your work or relate to it, they’ll spread the word for you. Keep producing episodes and keep trying. Just have a good story and an interesting way to tell it. Everybody loves a good story.

When all is said and done, Issa hopes:

That people will think of me as someone who made it happen for herself. That I challenged what was. That I inspired people to believe that you don’t have to be content with the images you see, you can create your own stories and your own characters. The only one stopping you is you. So just do it. Nike.

Writing, producing, and making it happen for herself, Issa Rae is: The Prototype. 

Help me produce my webseries “Broken Cisterns!” Vote for “Broken Cisterns” in the Black Women’s Entertainment Network contest today!




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