Multihyphenated content creator Issa Rae grew from a YouTube content creator to one of Hollywood’s most powerful Black voices. Rae grew up as one of four siblings to a Senegalese doctor and Black American educator whose careers took the family across different continents. Originally born in Los Angeles, CA, she lived in Senegal and Maryland before settling in California. It wasn’t until Rae entered high school that found her passion and voice — acting.
After graduating from high school in Los Angeles, Rae went to Stanford University, where she received a BA in African and African American Studies. The seeds for her first series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl were planted as she met her producer Tracy Oliver. The two eventually took classes at the New York Film Academy after Rae completed a theatre fellowship in New York City. Her confidence in having an entertainment career wavered as she contemplated between law and medical school before Awkward Black Girl took off.
After contemplating quitting her career, she had her breakthrough moment as Season 1 of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl took off on YouTube. The series gained recognition through word of mouth and coverage online before the mainstream media picked up the series. This attention led renowned music producer Pharrell to helping produce the second season and her developing other successful YouTube series such as Black Actress, The Choir, and First. She ended up gaining a development deal through Shonda Rhimes’ Shondaland with host and comedian Larry Wilmore helping to develop a comedy series.
Despite the deal not working out, the series she developed with Wilmore led to a pilot for HBO, which eventually became the acclaimed hit Insecure. Her work on Insecure has led to multiple award nominations as both an actor and writer. The series’ success helped to secure Rae an HBO development deal, leading to projects such as Rap Sh*t and A Black Lady Sketch Show. The creator continues to produce film and television projects through her production outlets Issa Rae Productions and ColorCreative. The success has translated to a big-screen career as both a performer and producer with hit films such as The Hate U Give, Little, Hair Love, and The Lovebirds.
As a screenwriter, there are very few creators in the entertainment industry so inspire me more than the woman I just profiled. While I did catch a few episodes of Awkward Black Girl on YouTube, it was her efforts to push other underrepresented and marginalized creators that made her a source of inspiration. She managed to turn an acclaimed, poignant web series into a multimedia brand spanning television, streaming, and the web. She (as well as a few other Black creators) helped to bring the Black experience back into primetime after a drought of Black television content, and for that, I want to say thank to Issa Rae for pushing creative like myself to highlight all facets of my culture.
My confidence comes from doing what I love to be honest, like to be able to create something from the ground up and to be able to… kind of walk in your purpose is a great feeling.
- Issa Rae