Issa Rae Is Not the First Black Woman to Create and Star in Her Own Comedy — She's the Second

The creator of HBO's 'Insecure' talks about inclusion in Hollywood and the uphill battle of telling black stories on TV: "It's been more trying to convince people that people of color are relatable."
HBO
Issa Rae

At one point during her Saturday appearance with TV critics, Issa Rae was told that she's the first black woman to create and star in her own comedy.

"I don't believe you," she replied. "It's sad if it's true."

She's not. There appears to have been one other. Wanda Sykes had a nine-episode run with Wanda at Large in 2003, but that's not exactly an encouraging statistic for an entertainment industry that seems only recently willing to admit the lack of opportunities and exposure for black and other minority voices. Plugging her fall HBO comedy, Insecure, Rae and her fellow executive producers were asked extensively to talk about the state of inclusion in Hollywood right now.

"Networks haven't outright said no to diversity," said Rae, when asked specifically about her time developing comedy I Hate L.A. Dudes at ABC with Shonda Rhimes. "It's been more trying to convince people that people of color are relatable. It's about the content. That's where my journey has had more ups and downs."

Rae, joined by showrunner Prentice Penny and director Melina Matsoukas, emphasized that the Insecure viewers will see in the fall is one exactly as she wanted it to be: black and relatable. That, she said when one reporter asked about the show debuting in a climate of Black Lives Matter, is their contribution to the current mainstream conversation about race in America.

"I think it's helpful in that you watch this [to see] black people are human and go through the same experiences as anyone else," she said. "This show is a way to take our mind off of things and realize, at the end of the day, we're all the same."

Insecure did not have the quickest road to air. Rae started developing the project with Larry Wilmore back in 2013. (He since left to focus on his duties, on camera and off, at Comedy Central's The Nightly Show). "HBO's development process took a long time," she admitted, "but it took enough time."

The discussion of inclusion in Hollywood the last two years has been mostly just that, a discussion. So when the trio onstage were asked if they felt an actual sea change, they seemed to agree that it is still far too soon to tell. "That question can be answered in five years," said Penny. "If there are three more Issa Raes and Melina Matsoukases, then yes. Time will tell."

Insecure premieres Oct. 9.

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