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A Conversation with Issa Rae: The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl


by Talia Whyte

Issa Rae, the creator and star of the hit web series, The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl, was a speaker at the first annual “Black Women in America” conference Feb. 25 at Lesley University. The conference was hosted by the Daughters of Yemaya Collective, a Cambridge-based arts non-profit.

The sudden success of “Awkward Black Girl” says a lot about not only the potential of viral video and good old-fashioned word of mouth, but also a growing desire among people of color to see better portrayals of their communities in the media. Coincidentally, I interviewed Rae the day before the Academy Awards, where actress Octavia Spencer won for her role playing a maid in the controversial film The Help. Rae said she originally wanted to become an actress as well, but quickly realized in college that there weren’t many roles for black women and turned her sights to writing and directing. While at Stanford, she met her friend and producer Tracy Oliver, who plays Nina in the web series.

"The only representation of blacks in Hollywood right now comes from Tyler Perry," said Oliver at a recent Emerson College lecture. "If people want to change Hollywood, we have to support films and TV shows you want to see to give Hollywood a message."

This same conversation is not only happening among people of color working in Hollywood, but also in journalism. Recently, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) put out a stern objection to the lack of African-American anchors hosting prime time news programs. There have also been complaints about the limited numbers of racially diverse journalists with leadership roles in both print and broadcast media. In light of the recent Jeremy Lin row, it became more obvious that racism is still prevalent in the media.

Many younger, tech-savvy journalists of color are also taking Rae’s advice of creating their own opportunities and sending the mainstream media a message. I know so many journalists of color who are taking advantage of the Internet to start their own online news initiatives. I recently had a chance to interview journalist Kelly Virella, who is the founder of the online news organization Dominion of New York. She started the site last year because she wanted to create a space for discussions about “the global black Diaspora from a progressive-to-radical political perspective.”

It is true what Rae says that “the future of television is on the Internet because everyone will be watching the Internet.” There has never been a better time than now for people of color to take advantage of cyberspace to be the media and be the change they want to see in the world.