Issa Rae

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Issa Rae
Issa Rae (cropped).jpg
Rae at a BET event in 2017
Jo-Issa Rae Diop

(1985-01-12) January 12, 1985 (age 34)
Other namesJoissa Diop
Alma materStanford University
  • Actress
  • writer
  • director
  • producer
Years active2011–present

Jo-Issa Rae Diop (born January 12, 1985),[1][2] known as Issa Rae, is an American actress, writer, director, producer, and web series creator. She first garnered attention for her work on the YouTube web series Awkward Black Girl.[3] She subsequently gained further recognition for creating, co-writing, and starring in the HBO television series Insecure.[4][5] For her acting work on Insecure, she has received two Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy[6] and a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.

Since 2011, Rae has continued to develop her YouTube channel, which features various short films, web series, and other content created by people of color.[7][8]

Early life[edit]

Rae was born in Los Angeles, California.[1] Her father, Dr. Abdoulaye Diop, is a pediatrician and neonatologist from Senegal, and her mother, Delyna Diop (née Hayward), is a teacher from Louisiana and is African-American.[9][10][11] Rae's parents met in France, when they were both in school. Rae has four siblings. The family lived in Dakar, Senegal,[2] for a short period during her childhood.[12] Her father has a medical practice in Inglewood, California.[13]:xiii

As a child, Rae lived in Potomac, Maryland, where she grew up with "things that aren't considered 'black,' like the swim team and street hockey and Passover dinners with Jewish best friends."[14] When Rae was in sixth grade, her family moved to the affluent View Park-Windsor Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, where she attended a predominantly black middle school. Rae said that, there, she was "berated for 'acting white'" and initially found it difficult to "fit into this 'blackness' I was supposed to be."[15] Rae graduated from King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science, where she started acting.[2] Her parents divorced when she was in high school.[13]:100–102

In 2007, Rae graduated from Stanford University with a major in African and African-American Studies. As a college student, she made music videos, wrote and directed plays, and created a mock reality series called Dorm Diaries for fun. At Stanford, Rae met Tracy Oliver, who helped produce Awkward Black Girl and starred on the show as Nina.[14]

After college, Rae received a theater fellowship at The Public Theater in New York City.[2] Oliver and Rae started taking classes together at the New York Film Academy. Rae worked odd jobs and at one point was struggling to decide between business school and law school, but eventually abandoned both ideas when Awkward Black Girl started taking off in 2011.[9]


Awkward Black Girl[edit]

Rae's web series Awkward Black Girl premiered on YouTube in 2011.[16] The show follows the life of J (played by Rae) as she interacts with co-workers and love interests who place her in uncomfortable situations. The story is told through a first-person narrative as J usually reveals how she feels about her circumstances through voice-over or dream sequence.

The series eventually went viral through word of mouth, blog posts, and social media, resulting in mainstream media coverage and attention.[17][18][19] In an effort to fund the rest of the first season, Rae and producer Tracy Oliver decided to raise money for the series through Kickstarter. On August 11, 2011 they were awarded $56,269 from 1,960 donations and released the rest of season one on Rae's YouTube channel.[20]

Rae eventually partnered up with Pharrell and premiered season two of the series on his YouTube channel, iamOTHER.[21] Rae also began releasing other content on her original channel, predominantly created by and starring people of color.[22]

In 2013, Awkward Black Girl won a Shorty award for Best Web Show. Rae created Awkward Black Girl because she felt the Hollywood stereotypes of African-American women were limiting and she could not relate to them:

I've always had an issue with the [assumption] that people of color, and black people especially, aren't relatable. I know we are.[23]

By using YouTube as her forum, Rae was able to have autonomy of her work since she writes, films, produces, and edits most of her work. Rae's other shows—Ratchet Piece Theater, The "F" Word, Roomieloverfriends, and The Choir, among others—also focus on African-American experiences that are often not portrayed in the mainstream media.[24]


In 2013, Rae began working on a comedy series pilot with Larry Wilmore, in which she would star.[25] The series, about the awkward experiences of a contemporary African-American woman, was eventually titled Insecure. HBO picked up the pilot in early 2015 and it was subsequently greenlit.[26] Since its release in 2016, the series has received critical acclaim; Eric Deggans of NPR wrote that "Rae has produced a series that feels revolutionary just by poking fun at the life of an average, twenty-something black woman."[27]

In 2017, the American Film Institute selected Insecure as one of the top 10 Television Programs of the Year.[28] For her acting work on the show, Rae has received two Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy in 2017 and 2018,[6] as well as a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 2018.

In 2018, Insecure was honored for "creating a series that authentically captures the lives of everyday young, black people in modern society,"[29] at the 77th Annual Peabody Awards.

On November 14, 2016, HBO renewed the show for a second season.[30] The second season premiered on July 23, 2017.[31] On August 8, 2017, it was announced that the show was renewed for a third season,[32] which premiered on August 12, 2018.

Other work[edit]

Rae's first book, a memoir titled The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, was released in 2015 and became a New York Times best-seller. In the book, she chronicles her life through a series of humorous anecdotes and opens up about her personal struggle with not fitting in, and not being considered "black enough" at times.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Rae's birth name, Jo-Issa, comes from a combination of the names of her grandmothers: Joyce and Isseu. Her middle name, Rae, is after an aunt, who was an artist.[14]

Rae is currently signed with United Talent Agency and 3 Arts Entertainment.

She is engaged to her longtime boyfriend, Louis Diame, a Senegalese businessman.[33] Issa Rae first wore her engagement ring publicly on the cover of Essence magazine's April 2019 issue.[33]


Issa Rae has used her platform to bring attention to police violence and brutality against Black Americans. Following the police shooting of Alton Sterling, Rae raised $700,000 for the Sterling Family Trust to help pay for the Sterling children to attend college.[34]

In media[edit]

In 2012, Rae was included on the annual Forbes '30 Under 30' list in the entertainment section.[35]

Rae appeared on the cover of Essence magazine's May 2015 "Game Changers" issue, alongside Shonda Rhimes, Ava DuVernay, Debbie Allen, and Mara Brock Akil.[36] Rae expressed her desire for more people of color working in production behind the scenes to make a lasting impact in the television industry.[36]



Year Title Role Executive
Notes Other credits
2014 Hard Times N/A Yes Short film
Black Twitter Screening N/A No Short film Writer
Protect and Serve Police Recruit Yes Short film
A Bitter Lime Jane Johnson No
2015 Killing Lazarus N/A producer
2018 The Hate U Give April Ofrah No
2019 Little April No
2020 The Photograph Mae Post-production
The Lovebirds Julie Yes Post-production


Year Title Role Executive
Notes Other credits
2011-2013 The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl J producer Main cast Directed, Writer, 1 episode: "The Sleepover" (2012); Producer, 1 episode: "The Check" (2013)
2012 M.O. Diaries N/A Yes TV Pilot
The Couple Lisa No Episode: "Exes and Texts"
2012-2013 The Number Lisa No 6 episodes
2013 How Men Become Dogs N/A Yes 9 episodes
True Friendship Society Mama Moth No Episode: Pilot Part Two"
My Roommate the J No Episode: "Awkward Black Girl"
Instacurity Issa No 2 Episodes: "The Birthday Party" and "Instacurity PSA"
Little Horribles Best Friend Yes Executive Producer, 3 episodes; Actor, 1 episode: "Sexual Activity"
Inside Web Series N/A Yes TV series documentary
Black Actress N/A producer
2013–2014 Roomieloverfriends N/A Yes Executive Producer, 4 episodes
2013–2015 The Choir N/A Yes Director, 2 episodes: "Genesis" and "New Blood"; Writer, 12 episodes
2014 So Jaded N/A Yes TV Movie
Words with Girls N/A Yes TV Movie
Bleach N/A Yes TV Movie
Rubberhead Bride 2 No TV Movie; Segment: "Absorption"
2014–2015 First N/A Yes Co-Executive Producer, 10 episodes; Co-Producer, 1 episodes
2015 Get Your Life N/A Yes
2016–present Insecure Issa Dee Yes Main cast Creator, writer
2018 BoJack Horseman Dr. Indira (voice) No 2 episodes

Music Videos[edit]

Year Song Artist Director(s) Role
2013 "Happy" Pharrell Williams We Are from L.A. Dancer
2017 "Moonlight" Jay-Z Alan Yang Rachel Green
2018 "Nice for What" Drake Karena Evans Herself

Works and publications[edit]

  • Rae, Issa (2015). The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. New York, NY: 37 Ink/Atria – Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9781476749051. OCLC 901338241.


  1. ^ a b "Joissa Rae Diop California Birth Index". FamilySearch. January 12, 1985.
  2. ^ a b c d Wortham, Jenna (August 4, 2015). "The Misadventures of Issa Rae". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Gopalan, Nisha (February 28, 2013). "Issa Rae on Awkward Black Girl, Her Shonda Rhimes Show, and Hating L.A. Guys". Vulture.
  4. ^ Hughes, William (June 23, 2016). "Issa Rae is still an Awkward Black Girl in the trailer for HBO's Insecure". The A.V. Club.
  5. ^ Respers France, Lisa (July 5, 2016). "Issa Rae's 'Insecure' may already be a hit". CNN.
  6. ^ a b "Issa Rae". Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  7. ^ Kang, Inkoo (August 7, 2015). "Issa Rae's Long Road: When Are We Finally Going to Stop Wondering if Women of Color Are "Relatable"?Tumisang Marumo's friend Waxx". Indiewire.
  8. ^ Johnson, Margeaux (October 1, 2014). "Issa Rae's Color Creative Calls for TV Diversity". EBONY.
  9. ^ a b Gray, Emma (November 5, 2013). "Issa Rae, Creator Of 'Awkward Black Girl', Felt Like Her Voice Was Missing From Pop Culture – So Here's What She Did". The Huffington Post.
  10. ^ a b Obaro, Tomi (February 16, 2015). "Issa Rae on Her New Memoir and Being "Halfrican"". Chicago.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Brown, Stacia L. (February 10, 2015). "Meet the Black _________". The New Republic.
  13. ^ a b Rae, Issa (2015). The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. New York, NY: 37 Ink/Atria – Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9781476749051. OCLC 901338241.
  14. ^ a b c Hua, Vanessa (May 2012). "Awkward Stage: A web sitcom's quirky black heroine is poised for takeoff". Stanford Magazine.
  15. ^ Crossley, Hilary (July 26, 2011). "5 Questions for Issa Rae on 'Awkward Black Girl'". Essence.
  16. ^ Brown, S Tia (September 12, 2011). "Nerdy Girls Rock". Jet. Vol. 120. Iss. 11. p. 31.
  17. ^ Whitfield, Fredricka (October 8, 2011). "'Awkward Black Girl' web hit" (video interview). CNN.
  18. ^ Anderson, Stacy A. (September 12, 2011). "Diverse Web series grows through social media". The Philadelphia Tribune. The Associated Press.
  19. ^ Andrews, Helena (July 6, 2011). "Embracing the Awkward, One Webisode at a Time". The Root.
  20. ^ "Update 1: Update Video: Thank You for Over $40K Raised!". The Misadventures of AWKWARD Black Girl. Kickstarter. August 8, 2011.
  21. ^ Shannon (June 15, 2012). "Pharrell Williams Teams Up With Awkward Black Girl & Launches New Brand". Pink is the New Blog.
  22. ^ Caramanica, Jon (July 13, 2012). "Issa Rae and 'Awkward Black Girl' Are Breaking Ground". The New York Times.
  23. ^ Sherman, S. (2015). Issa Rae, "Making The black Experience Relatable". Sun Reporter, 9.
  24. ^ Favreau, Jon (December 16, 2016). "Creativity Roundtable: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Donald Glover, Issa Rae and Damien Chazelle in One Epic Conversation" (Video roundtable includes transcript). The Hollywood Reporter.
  25. ^ "Issa Rae & Larry Wilmore To Create 'Non-Prophet' For HBO". Vibe. August 6, 2013.
  26. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (October 15, 2015). "Issa Rae Comedy 'Insecure' Gets HBO Series Order". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 9, 2016.
  27. ^ "At TV Press Tour, Actors And Producers Of Color Speak Of Hollywood Struggles".
  28. ^ "AFI Awards 2017". Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  29. ^ "Insecure (HBO)". Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  30. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (November 14, 2016). "'Westworld', 'Divorce' & 'Insecure' Renewed For Season 2 By HBO". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  31. ^ "Issa Rae on Twitter".
  32. ^ Lockett, Dee (August 8, 2017). "Insecure Is Hella Renewed for Season Three". Vulture. Retrieved August 8, 2017.
  33. ^ a b Washington, Jasmine (2019-04-01). "'Insecure' Creator Issa Rae Engaged to Longtime Boyfriend". EBONY. Retrieved 2019-05-13.
  34. ^ Blair, Imani; Le, Monique. Modern HERstory : stories of women and nonbinary people rewriting history (First ed.). California. ISBN 9780399582233. OCLC 1019616770.
  35. ^ "Forbes 30 Under 30". Forbes. 2014.
  36. ^ a b "Shonda Rhimes, Ava DuVernay, Debbie Allen, Mara Brock Akil and Issa Rae Cover ESSENCE's 'Game Changers' Issue". April 13, 2015. Retrieved January 26, 2018.

External links[edit]