Media maven promotes black women’s representation in mainstream media
Melissa Riordan | Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Producer, writer and director Issa Rae shared her transition “From Awkward Black Girl to Media Maven” in a titular lecture sponsored by the Multicultural Student Programs and Services in Carey Auditorium on Tuesday evening.
Rae said her career began with a YouTube series she created while an undergraduate student at Stanford University.
“I created my first web series my senior year of college, called ‘Dorm Diaries,’” Rae said. “It was a satirical diary about what it was like to be black at Stanford. I cast my friends and shared it on Facebook, and the school’s response was amazing. It even spread to schools like Duke, Harvard and Howard. I could not believe that I created a show that students around the country were relating to.”
Following the conclusion of this first mini series and her college graduation, Rae said she moved to New York City in search of opportunities in the theatre and film industries. There, Rae said she felt disillusioned by the various media executives hindering her from the success she knew she was capable of.
“I kept getting told to ‘Change this’ or ‘Wait’ or ‘Do this,’” Rae said. “It really forced me to take a step back and realize that a lot of these people — the gatekeepers — were just in my way, and I decided I would work to build my own projects.”
Despite these initial setbacks, Rae said her desire to share stories with the world and change the racial dynamic of media outweighed her nerves.
“I have always wanted to tell stories – about me, my friends, about people I can relate to — and that can be really easy to do, except there is a huge disconnect when it comes to race on television,” Rae said. “The desire to tell my own story is what, in part, made me want to get started as a writer.”
Rae channeled this ambition into her second web series, “The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl.” She said she hoped that this venture would transform the way people see girls on television.
“I will say that girls – New Girl, Two Broke Girls – they all have something in common, and that is that the universal term ‘girl’ is white,” Rae said. “In these successful series, the default girl is implied that she is white, and I really have a strong desire to change that.”
Since launching “The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl,” Rae’s channel has earned over 20 million views and nearly 160,000 subscribers. Rae was also listed on Forbes 30 under 30 twice, including this year, and went on to work with stars such as Pharrell Williams, Tracey Edmonds and writer Shonda Rhimes.
Moving forward, Rae said she hopes to help others to succeed in the media field. Recently, she launched ColorCreative.TV, which aims to help women and minorities looking to work in media.
“Just last year I launched a platform called ColorCreative.TV for minority women,” Rae said. “The mission is to disrupt the traditional television process and change the landscape of television.”