So I’m a bit late in the game as I’ve only recently discovered Issa Rae’s fabulous web series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. As has been said by others, her show is unique and fills a void in the cultural media landscape. Awkward Black Girl, or ABG as it has come to be called, offers a unique, hilarious and honest perspective on relatable everyday circumstances – from frustrating co-workers, office drama and dating (within and outside of one’s ethnicity) to race and the subtleties of day-to-day prejudice. In my humble opinion it is as funny – if not funnier – than much of what you would watch on network television.
While the show borrows from themes common in film and situational comedies, Issa Rae’s internet phenomenon has garnered attention and a loyal following not only due to the quality of the culturally and socially spot-on writing, but because, through ABG, she manages to change the narrative and to illuminate an aspect of black female life that mainstream media either isn’t interested in, or fails to believe exists.
In an interview with another internet maven, Amanda de Cadenet of The Conversation, both Rae and de Cadenet discuss, amongst other things, the lack of diverse voices in studio-driven TV productions. As Rae points out, studio producers often make assumptions about what ethnic audiences want to view on their screens and often their first consideration is how a show will affect advertising dollars. Anyone who has watched television with an observant eye will know – aside from a few exceptions – that more often than not ethnic does not sell.
What often isn’t promoted on network TV is alternative storytelling, i.e. stories that don’t fit the (mis)conceptions and assumptions people have about ethnics. What is wonderful about Issa Rae’s show is that, wrapped within the humour and sarcasm, she somehow manages to show a more complex version of female blackness. Her character is black AND quirky; she’s erudite AND loves gangsta rap; she’s introspective AND sensitive AND tough without being a stereotypical, emasculating, over the top black woman. Executives seem to prefer the latter – it’s easy to sell – but so often it rings false for those of us who aren’t THAT way.
Because Issa is at the helm of the show, writing and producing ABG, she’s able to craft a legit and unique experience. It is refreshing to see a multifaceted – and nerdy and awkward!- black female and one that so many of us can relate to!
A series like ABG can exist mostly because it doesn’t ‘air’ on a network television channel. It was born and bred on the internet and supported by internet users.The show survived its first online season due to crowd funding via Kickstarter and season two was supported by music producer Pharell Williams, who loved the idea of a character that represented all the black nerds out there. And there are many of us!
There is great democratic power in the internet – for those watching and those producing shows. And the internet allows one to take control and do innovative and different things. It’s hard, for example, to see an Issa-type being cast as the lead on a network show. Don’t get me wrong, Issa is gorgeous, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a dark-skinned leading lady with a TWA on television. Those ladies are usually the side-kicks. (For those not in the know, a TWA is a teeny weeny afro).
Rae’s success is now being recognized by mainstream players. Aside from Williams, Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, is now knocking on Rae’s door. Rae is also reportedly slated to play Nina Simone in an upcoming film and will soon form part of a panel for a The View-type show with other black females called Exhale.
Rae’s success is much deserved. She was daring, ambitious and saw a gap and filled it and then some. Rather than waiting for the door to be opened, Rae opened it herself and what an amazing adventure she chose.