Issa Rae, who received eight Emmy nominations for “Insecure” is on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter’s latest issue.
The actress and producer, is all about helping and elevating Black creatives in Hollywood. She has normalized Black lives onscreen with her HBO show and other projects — and it’s something she prides herself on.
On this issue, she talks gentrification, class, motherhood, code-switching, early doubts, her project with Jordan Peele and navigating Hollywood.
Here’s what the actress had to share with the magazine:
On scoring Eight Emmy nominations for Insecure this year:
Anybody can tell you when I heard Yvonne’s name, that’s when I got really excited. I had been nominated before, but I’m very much aware that I don’t do this by myself. I did feel guilty. It was just like, “Everybody else is killing it and they’re really helping to elevate me and they’re not getting the recognition.”
But Yvonne was like, “They’re watching and they’re seeing the work we’re doing.” To be a four-season show, to have it happen now, is not lost on me because there’s so many new and amazing shows. To have the culture support our show, it’s a FUBU [For Us, By Us] show in every way … I feel so blessed and we love every second.
[With] Insecure, it took so long and every draft was like, “No, this isn’t it. No, this isn’t it. No, this isn’t it.” I was just like, “Oh, OK. Maybe this is the end of the road for me,” especially when I’m investing in this big venture, which ended up being ColorCreative, and spent all my money and didn’t have anything. I remember being on the set of a pilot we were filming [Words with Girls] and getting the call that HBO was not feeling the latest draft and I was losing Larry [Wilmore, Insecure’s first showrunner]. I was like, “This isn’t going to happen for me, and I just did all of this for nothing.”
Thankfully, Larry leaving for The Nightly Show, as much as I love him, was the best thing that could’ve happened because it forced me to be like, “OK. It’s not a workplace comedy,” and having a conversation with HBO was really helpful just in terms of centring it. It was just like, “I’m going to put everything that I’m going throughout on the table in this pilot. If they say no, at least I tried, and fuck it.”
On why this season really stood out for Emmy voters:
I’m going to be real. I think the pandemic, being quarantined during a period when our humanity was questioned, in a more front-facing way, definitely helped. We came on during a time when people were bored at home, and also there were racial uprisings, and our show served as a comfort. Thank God, because to release anything else during this time — even our show — I felt a huge guilt in coming out during the protests because there were just so many more important things happening, I didn’t want to take full focus away from that. But to hear people be like, “No, this is an escape. It brings us back to Black people being joyous and happy and ourselves” — our natural state really felt like we were meant to air during this time. I think that for sure helped people to see our show in a different light.
On what makes her feel rooted:
Girl, this is for my therapist that I don’t have. I don’t know. It always changes. It’s old age and still being here. Denzel-ness. Alfre Woodard-ness. I mean, Denzel is a good model because he belongs to Black people and has never denied who he is and his roots. The stuff that he’s done underground to help young Black actors, to create a pipeline for them. He’s also been a producer and a director and is just so revered and has a Blackass family. I got to go to his AFI tribute, and I was just reminded, “Man, this man has meant so much to me, my mom, my aunt, my grandmother, and that matters to me.” There’s a legacy there.
On how criticism affects her:
I’m open to all criticism. I feel like you have to be, to be in this industry. There are Black critics that I value what they think because I read what they read, or I read what they write about everything. I love it. I can see this point of view, and that’s so interesting. It may be reflected in something else that I do down the line, or it may spark inspiration for conversations that we may have. We feed each other in that really interesting way.
But let’s be real. There are a couple where I’m like, “Oh, this person just comes for me,” or “This person doesn’t like me.” You’re putting your personal life into it. You’re a blogger, not a critic at this point. It’s an art form.
For more from Issa Rae, visit HollywoodReporter.com.