The mantra of the San Francisco State University’s first Annual Women’s Conference was “her-story” and it
emphasized the need to enforce and acknowledge women’s perspective of historical events in the past and present. The conference was held to honor and unify women of different backgrounds and to further empower and educate women from all generations.
Issa Rae, creator, director and producer of “The Mis-adventures of Awkward Black Girl”, (ABG) participated inthe Annual Women’s Conference where she spoke to a full room of young women about her experiences with writing and producing the show. Rae received her B.A from Stanford, where she also produced and directed different theatrical productions, ABG being the third.
The ABG web series, is about a young Black woman named J, who is socially awkward. J is an intelligent female college graduate, working for a corporate diet company called “Gutbusters”.
Along with the character of J, Rae creates other Black and non-Black characters with similar complex personalities. It is these dynamics within the show that draw in its large audience.
Friends, Katie, half-black and Joe, Filipino-American, went to meet Issa Rae at the conference. They were ecstatic and couldn’t wait to meet the woman who created the show they say is “really relatable and breaks stereotypes”. Katie, age 21, adds, “I’m not a stereotypical half-black [and white] girl, like ‘super cool’ and glamorous. It’s more like I’m awkward too, you know?”
For the people who are not familiar with the show “Awkward Black Girl”, what can you tell them about it?
Awkward Black Girl is about a girl who navigates life, love, her job and other uncomfortable life situations. She’s not very graceful with her social interactions with people, so she has issues with running into people in the hallways multiple times or going into a party and [having to] mingle -things we all have to go through.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background in theatrics?
I started acting in fifth grade and really got into it in high school. I was in all the plays and when I got to college I really realized there weren’t any roles, so I started writing and producing my own content. I really loved it and forgot about acting for a while and then my senior year of college, I came up with a web series about what it’s like to be Black at Stanford and I really liked that median a lot. It’s [the series] moving forward. I knew there was something there and there was a future for web content. From there, I would do two web series and that is sort of my passion for now.
How would you define an awkward Black girl?
There’s two definitions for me; One, there is the typical definition of the awkward Black girl. A girl who happens to be Black and sort of clumsy and “thumbles” around with social situations and has a huge discomfort when it comes to interacting with people. The other definition, now as pertained through mainstream media, is a black girl who happens to be different from the representation; who doesn’t fit this mold and stereotype that is placed on us, as of now.
What motivated you to create “Awkward Black Girl”?
I was inspired by other shows like: “Seinfield”, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Office”. I wanted to create a character I could relate to. Awkward humor is something that runs in my family and I wanted to sort of put it on display and also expand my portfolio because I was doing two other web series different from what I was doing with “Awkward Black Girl” and I wanted to write. I was just inspired by that specific portrayal of people and that kind of humor.
What were some of the social and economical obstacles you’ve had to face while doing the show?
I’ve had more economical struggles than social. I’m blessed to have worked with a lot of my friends, so they were willing to work through thick and thin. Economically, it has been somewhat of a burden to fund the series. Up until KickStart [.org] happened, we weren’t going to have enough money to continue producing. Luckily, because of KickStart [.org] people started demonstrating their support by giving money, but for season two, we’re still trying to do that. Money is always an issue and there’s not enough money in the web just yet.
What has been the executive and mainstream response, since starting the show?
The mainstream response has been receptive, for the most part. They like the fact that there’s something new and a new voice and that there’s an audience for it, but they don’t really know what to do with it. For instance, mainstream executives just see money. They see what’s going to make them the most money for that network. So the decisions they make to get money -I don’t necessarily agree with. I’m very much aligned with my initial vision for the series, so I appreciate the response, but I’m not willing to just rush and sign any deal that comes first.
Have you witnessed any prejudices towards the show?
I have witnessed prejudices. People who aren’t Black have told me that “I was scared to watch the show at first because it’s called ‘Awkward Black Girl’ and I didn’t think I’d be able to relate to it, but I’m glad I did”. The “Black” in the title of the series really turns people off in a sense. Again, people don’t feel like Black people can be relatable, so for the most part that’s it... And YouTube! Yeah, there are a lot of “YouTube racists” and idiots that post comments that are really offensive... But for the most, part the responses [to the series] have really been positive.
Where did you get your ideas for creating your characters on your show?
My characters were created by my pet peeves. I hate running into people multiple times in the hallways, showing up to a party and not knowing anyone because I suck at mingling and networking. The character of Darius is from me hating to have to ask people to repeat themselves [he’s infamously known on the show to speak in a low tone] and Boss Lady is based on a sixth grade teacher I had who was ignorant and asked if my hair was a tribute to my ancestors. So they come from life experience, but for the most part, they are exaggerated and they’re my “worst nightmare” scenarios.
How do you feel about the popular response you’re receiving? Do you feel like a celebrity?
[laughing] People do make me feel like a celebrity and that’s really cool. I was scared to put it [the web series] out at first because it is my face out there and that’s not what it was suppose to be. But yeah, you can’t ask for a better response then what I’ve been getting. People are responding so positively and people are excited to see the series and invite us [the cast] to their schools. Yeah, I love it.
What advice would you give to people of color who want to start their own web series?
I would say to surround yourself with like-minded people, who have the same vision as you. And work with them and take it seriously. Treat it like a television series, where you have specific goals and content and make a structure. Just remain disciplined. It may be slow at first, but you just have to follow through and build your audience. Building your audience online is really important and engaging with them is really important as well.