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After having already staked her claim on the scripted world, Issa Rae is on to her next venture: reality TV.
The Insecure co-creator and star is an executive producer on HBO Max’s new series Sweet Life: Los Angeles, which follows a group of Black 20-somethings navigating love, friendships and careers in South L.A. She and her Hoorae production team have sought to do an updated version of BET reality show Baldwin Hills, which ran from 2007 to ’09, while also taking inspiration from a few other classic series as a self-declared “avid docuseries and reality television watcher.”
“I’m a fan of Vanderpump Rules; I love The Hills, I grew up on The Hills,” Rae told THR at an L.A. premiere party for the show Wednesday. “Early Vanderpump Rules when they were just people working in a restaurant, trying to figure things out and the inner workings of their social relationships. And The Hills, of course, was a coming-of-age story with incredible production value and incredible music. This felt like an opportunity to do the same.”
Filmed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the series features castmembers — some new friends and others who have known each other since childhood — from Ladera Heights, Inglewood and Watts. In typical reality TV style, the group has love triangles and friendship drama but also celebrates Black success and entrepreneurship.
“I don’t know that we’ve had this kind of portrayal before, documented in this way,” says Rae, who once again turns to the South L.A. backdrop against which she was raised and that she highlighted on Insecure. Of her commitment to telling stories there, she says, “The way that it’s showcased I think has just been over the years such a very specific narrative for the city, and to be able to have an opportunity to reshape that — and not necessarily deny that history because it’s still ours — but just offer alternative narratives, it’s exciting.”
The premiere party, held at NeueHouse in Hollywood, was trimmed down to a more intimate event amid the rise in delta variant COVID-19 cases; guests were also required to show proof of vaccination and be tested ahead of the event. The cast was not in attendance, as they are currently in a film production bubble, but Rae’s Insecure co-star Yvonne Orji was on hand to support.
As for why Rae has dubbed Sweet Life her new favorite show, the exec producer says the cast “reminds me of my friends and I truly do believe my friends, we’ve built together to who we are today,” adding, “I just love watching real people go through shit because you feel less alone.”
Sweet Life: Los Angeles is now streaming on HBO Max.
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