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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

UrbanWorld Review: Issa Rae's Hilarious New Series, INSECURE, Boldly Dismantles the "Strong Black Woman" Trope

"We don't have high standards. We are just tired of being expected to settle for less."

If there is a line from executive producer/co-writer/star Issa Rae's eagerly anticipated premiere of the HBO series, INSECURE, that best encapsulates its message, it is this. But, in keeping with Rae's brand of awkward yet poignant observations of life as a black woman in America, it's delivered by Rae's character (Issa Dee) in response to a snotty young teen in a classroom who criticizes her for being chronically single. Because there is really no better time to assert your aggression against single shaming than when you're doing a presentation about a non-profit organization for youth. That's the thing with Rae, she may not say it at the most appropriate time, but she's always going to say that uncomfortable truth that many don't think to say out loud. And it's always hilarious, you know, because it's true.  

For that, you can call her the young black female Seinfeld. But with INSECURE, Rae has done something far more significant. She's given a long overdue small screen voice to young black women who are smart, single, feminist, vulnerable and yes, insecure sometimes. Dismantling the oppressive "strong black woman" trope in primetime, she reminds us that we don't always have the answers, we don't always have our s**t together, and we are painfully aware of how we don't always know how to fill in those awkward silences. But we're pushing forward anyway. 

For those of you who followed Rae's similarly witty and oh-so-spot-on YouTube series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, will be excited to learn that the now It girl hasn't gone full Hollywood and left what put her on the map behind now that she's a primetime star. In fact, as she recalls at a screening of the premiere episode at UrbanWorld Film Festival recently, she had offers to work on other projects before this came along (including one with none other than TV titan Shonda Rhimes), but network intervention led to several rewrites that diluted her voice beyond recognition. She ended up turning it down, then one month later INSECURE came around.

Freestyling ratchet music it in her bathroom mirror, dealing with white employers who only see her as their black girl expert, and navigating the dismal dating scene in enough self-deprecating material to perform a one-woman show. But I'd be remiss if I didn't praise the awesome Yvonne Orji, who plays her newly single bestie, Molly, who Issa tries to cheer up by taking her on a night on the town (This of course has disastrous results. I won't spoil anything here, but all I'll say are the words "Broken P*ssy"). Rae has certainly found her match with Orji, an actress whose facial expressions alone will make you laugh to the verge of tears. She's the yin to Rae's yang in that she's the social butterfly who can charm the pants off any dude and confidently lead boardroom. But she also has a soft side, a trait Rae herself was adamant about incorporating in the show. "I know we have #BlackGirlMagic, but I don't always feel like that," she revealed at UrbanWorld. "I wanted to show that on the show."

With the amazing variety of narratives heating up the small screen lately, it's comforting to know that TV is finally catching up with the nuances of reality. INSECURE not only offers an authentic portrayal of relationships (whether it be work, friends, significant others, and self), but it's given black women (which includes Melina Matsoukas, director/executive producer) the allegiance to create characters and storylines that don't fit an established archetype. It's bold, smart, wildly entertaining, and unapologetic. I'm here for every last bit of it.

INSECURE premiere on HBO October 9 at 10:30 PM. 


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