Cannes Lions: Issa Rae on Beyonce and the Fallacy of the "Flawless, Fierce" Black Woman

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Issa Rae

"The positive portrayals over the last 10 years are overcompensating for the negative portrayals," the 'Insecure' star said of how black women are represented in the media.

Cannes Lions saved one of the best for last, with a final main stage panel discussion about femininity between Issa Rae, Allure magazine editor Michelle Lee, CoverGirl senior vp Ukonwa Ojo and Droga5 director Katy Alonzo.

Rae, whose CoverGirl campaign is a direct answer to Naomi Campbell’s plea earlier this week for more beauty campaigns featuring women of color, said that the media is showing an unrealistic portrayal of black people to make up for years of negativity.

"For black women, I tend to find it harmful that we have all the burden on our shoulders, to uphold this specific image. You see them as the strong, flawless, fierce type of woman. And even on a great day, I am never those things," she said, asking the audience if they have listened to Beyonce and Jay-Z's recently released joint album.

"Even hearing that Jay-Z verse being thankful to Beyonce and all the black women in his life for putting up with his bullshit," the multihyphenate continued. "And that’s kind of [the idea of] what black women are currently, [that] they’re going to be there when you need them. And that’s absolutely not the case, for sure with anyone I know."

Rae said portrayals of black men in the media have also gone too far in that they are always portrayed as "overly cool and suave." The Insecure star explained, "The positive portrayals over the last 10 years are overcompensating for the negative portrayals."

The conversation then pivoted to the concept of toxic masculinity, with the panelists agreeing that the idea, while often true, also discounts how hard it can be to be male in a world that has made strength part of what it means to be a man. And while male traits are revered as aspirational for women as well — confidence and competence are often cited as traditionally masculine — men are discouraged from displaying any feminine traits, such as emotional intelligence.

"This is the audience that determines what culture values, and if we have a culture that values masculinity over femininity, this audience also has to own that," CoverGirl's Ojo said. "If we want to change that and say that we see a world where everyone is equal, then this is the audience that is going to tell that story. So, I ask of you to elevate femininity and expand the definition of femininity, and you have the opportunity to create the world and the future we all want to be a part of."