Issa Rae 'Awkward Black Girl': Series Proves Pop Culture Needs More Diversity
With the close of the second season of The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl and audiences awaiting the unknown fate of a third season, writer/producer/director/actor Issa Rae has already shown in 25 short YouTube episodes and a Kickstarter campaign to fund the series that there is a dire need and desire for racial diversity in media.
The series is concerned with the awkward-infused life of "J" (played by Issa Rae). Through humor and awkwardness, the significance of Rae's production is not lost. Seemingly in a direct response to the criticism Lena Dunham faced for a lack of diversity (and still faces), Issa Rae's production is filled with diverse voices and she makes a point to talk about how her show does the job of beginning to fill a void of diversity in media.
Rae is open about how difficult and mysterious the process was to create and gain viewership for Awkward Black Girl. In a piece she authored on Huffington Post, she describes how she first had to overcome selling herself and her product short to get things started. She writes, "we were skeptical about how much people would be willing to donate to a web series. Also black people, unfortunately, have a stigma associated with supporting one another... [but] we decided it was time to stop shortchanging ourselves." They asked for $30,000 and received over $50,000 by the close of the campaign.
In addition to overcoming racism Rae felt was in her community, she also had to work against racism directed at her work and her success. After winning the Shorty Award for Best Web Show in 2012 she was inundated with racist backlash over Twitter that she documented in an article for xoJane. Taking the hate trolling in stride, she says of the experience, "it not only makes me laugh, but it reminds me of why I wanted to create ABG in the first place."
But despite the backlash and difficulty, there was also a lot of support. She has a Facebook following of more than 85,000, 45,000+ Twitter followers, and over 14 million video views on her YouTube channel. The numbers combined with supportive fans and donors continually reaffirms the need for work like Rae's that brings voices of color into media work.
Rae is the first to acknowledge her contribution and the need for more diverse media. Speaking about the development of her character "J" she says in a TIME interview, "It was more for me, for representation of me, because it sort of filled a void that I just didn't see in media. It was a selfish endeavor for the most part and it became something bigger. I've noticed, just from the outreach that I've gotten, she is a role model for many people. She’s a source of comfort and I wouldn't have imagined that." She attributes a lot of her success to the platform the the Internet provides for people to publish work more accessibly, especially when it comes to stories of people of color that the mainstream media overlooks.
In the same TIME interview she says that the future looks bright for a more diverse media precisely because of the accessibility of the Internet. Hoping for more involvement she says, "I think that we’re going to see more full-blown shows. This is going to be the opportunity for people of color ... I think that this is the space for niche communities to find content and for niche creators to find their audiences." I can only hope she's correct in her predictions.
With all of the acclaim, keep a close eye on Rae's next steps, as she's reportedly working with Shonda Rimes on a new series set for cable and a feature length Awkward Black Girl installment. It all leaves the series up in the air in terms of whether or not a third season will be filmed, but new season or not, she continues to grow and proves that audiences are craving diversity in the media that is desperately needed.