Issa Rae

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Issa Rae
Issa Rae (cropped).jpg
Rae in 2017
Born
Jo-Issa Rae Diop

(1985-01-12) January 12, 1985 (age 36)
Other namesJoissa Diop
Alma materStanford University
Occupation
  • Actress
  • writer
  • producer
Years active2011–present
Notable work
Awkward Black Girl, Insecure
Spouse(s)
Louis Diame
(m. 2021)
Websiteissarae.com

Jo-Issa Rae Diop[1] (born January 12, 1985),[2] credited professionally as Issa Rae, is an American actress, writer, and producer. Rae first garnered attention for her work on the YouTube web series Awkward Black Girl.[3] 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.[4][5]

Issa Rae is only the second Black woman, after Wanda Sykes in 2003, to create and star in her own comedy show based in the USA.

Rae has achieved wider recognition as the co-creator, co-writer, and star of the HBO television series Insecure (2016–present), for which she has been nominated for multiple Golden Globes Awards and Primetime Emmy Awards.[6][7] Her 2015 memoir, titled The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, became a New York Times best-seller. In 2018, Rae was included in the annual Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world.[8]

Rae has also starred in feature films, with roles in the drama The Hate U Give (2018), the fantasy comedy Little (2019), the romance The Photograph (2020), and the romantic comedy The Lovebirds (2020). She will also voice Jessica Drew / Spider-Woman in the sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2022).

Early life[edit]

Jo-Issa Rae Diop was born in Los Angeles, California.[9] Her father, Abdoulaye Diop, is a pediatrician and neonatologist from Senegal, and her mother, Delyna Diop (née Hayward), is a teacher from Louisiana.[10][11][12] Her parents met in France, when they were both in school. She has four siblings. Her father has a medical practice in Inglewood, California.[13]: xiii 

The family lived in Dakar, Senegal,[1] for a short period during her childhood.[14] She was raised mostly 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."[15] When Diop 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. Diop graduated from King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science, where she started acting.[1] Her parents divorced when she was in high school.[13]: 100–102  Diop is fluent in French.[16]

In 2007, Diop graduated from Stanford University with a Bachelor of Arts 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, Diop met Tracy Oliver, who helped produce Awkward Black Girl and starred on the show as Nina.[15]

After college, Diop received a theater fellowship at The Public Theater in New York City.[1] Oliver and Diop started taking classes together at the New York Film Academy. Diop 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.[10]

Career[edit]

Awkward Black Girl[edit]

Rae's web series Awkward Black Girl premiered on YouTube in 2011.[17] 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.[18][19][20] 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.[21]

Rae eventually partnered with Pharrell and premiered season two of the series on his YouTube channel, iamOTHER.[22] Rae also began releasing other content on her original channel, predominantly created by and starring people of color.[23]

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.[24]

By using YouTube as her forum, Rae was able to have autonomy of her work because 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.[25]

Insecure[edit]

In 2013, Rae began working on a comedy series pilot with Larry Wilmore, in which she would star.[26] 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.[27] 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."[28]

In 2017, the American Film Institute selected Insecure as one of the top 10 Television Programs of the Year.[29] 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,[30] as well as a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 2018.

In 2018, at the 77th annual Peabody Awards, Insecure was honored for "creating a series that authentically captures the lives of everyday young, black people in modern society."[31]

On November 14, 2016, HBO renewed the show for a second season.[32] The second season premiered on July 23, 2017.[33] On August 8, 2017, it was announced that the show was renewed for a third season,[34] which premiered on August 12, 2018. The fourth season premiered on HBO in 2020.

The Photograph[edit]

Released in 2020, follows the journey of Issa’s character, Mae Morton, and LaKeith Stanfield's character Michael Block, as the two search for the backstory of Mae’s mother. The New York Times mentioned this film as “an unabashedly old-school love story”.[35] The Empire said that  “The Photograph is an African-American romance that, for the most part, feels relatable and true”.[36]

The Love Birds[edit]

Released in 2020, directed by Michael Showalter, Rae played the role of Leilani. The film starred Kumail Nanjani, who played Jibran, Leilani's boyfriend. Throughout the film, the couple struggles to maintain their relationship and during this, they face an eventful murder.

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.[37] 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.[11]

On October 11, 2019, Google announced that Rae would be an additional voice to the Google Assistant. Users can make Google Assistant speak in Rae's voice by saying "Ok Google, talk like Issa."[38]

Also in 2019, Rae, through her newly launched record label "Raedio," partnered with Atlantic Records to produce "Kinda Love" by singer-rapper TeaMarrr.[39]

In March 2021, Rae's production company, Hoorae, signed a five-year film and television deal with WarnerMedia.[40]

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.[15]

Relationship[edit]

Rae married her longtime partner, Louis Diame, a Senegalese businessman, in a private ceremony in France in July 2021.[41] Rae first wore her engagement ring publicly on the cover of Essence magazine's April 2019 issue.[41]

Activism[edit]

Rae has used her platform to bring attention to police violence and brutality against African-Americans. Following the police shooting of Alton Sterling in 2016, she raised $700,000 for the Sterling Family Trust to help pay for the Sterling children to attend college.[42]

Rae is an advocate for civil rights and women’s rights movements. Her work includes themes of equality and social justice. She works closely with organizations like the ACLU, BLD PWR, and Black Lives Matter.[43]

Her show Insecure has changed the public perception of the South Los Angeles community by highlighting Black businesses.[44]

In the media[edit]

In 2012, Rae was included on the annual Forbes '30 Under 30' list in the entertainment section.[45]

In May 2015, Rae appeared on the cover of Essence magazine's Game Changers issue, alongside Shonda Rhimes, Ava DuVernay, Debbie Allen, and Mara Brock Akil. Rae expressed her desire for more people of color working in production behind the scenes to make a lasting impact in the television industry.[46]

On the red carpet at the 2017 Emmy Awards, Rae told reporters, "I'm rooting for everybody black." The quote went viral and appeared on T-shirts and in the song "Sue Me" by the rapper Wale.[47]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Key
Films that have not yet been released Denotes films that have not yet been released
Year Title Role Executive
producer
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 Williams No
Hair Love Mom (voice) No Short film
2020 The Photograph Mae Morton Yes
The Lovebirds Leilani Yes
2022 Untitled Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse sequelIndicates a film that has not yet been released Jessica Drew / Spider-Woman (voice) No In production
TBA VengeanceIndicates a film that has not yet been released TBA No Post-production

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Executive
producer
Notes Other credits
2011–2013 The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl J producer Main cast director, 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
2019 A Black Lady Sketch Show N/A Yes
2020 Coastal Elites Callie Josephson No
Saturday Night Live Herself (host) No Episode: "Issa Rae/Justin Bieber"
TBA Rap Sh*t[48] Yes creator, writer

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
"Spice Girl" Aminé Aminé Girlfriend
2018 "Nice for What" Drake Karena Evans Herself
2019 "Kinda Love" TeaMarrr Child. Therapist
2020 "Lights On" D Smoke, SiR Jack Begert Stripper
"Entrepreneur" Pharrell Williams, Jay-Z Calmatic Herself

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Work Result Ref.
2017 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy Insecure Nominated [49]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated [50]
Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series Nominated
NAMIC Vision Awards Best Performance - Comedy Won
MTV Movie & TV Awards Next Generation Nominated [51]
TCA Awards Individual Achievement in Comedy Nominated [52]
BET Awards Best Actress Nominated [53]
Black Reel Awards Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series Nominated
Outstanding Comedy Series Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series Won
2018 Golden Globe Awards Best Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy Nominated [54]
Satellite Awards Best Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy Won
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated [55]
Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series Nominated
Entertainer of the Year Herself Nominated
MTV Movie & TV Awards Best Performance in a Show Insecure Nominated [56]
BET Awards Best Actress Nominated [57]
Black Reel Awards Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series Won
Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series Nominated
Outstanding Comedy Series Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated [58]
2019 Satellite Awards Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy Series Nominated [59]
Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated [60]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated [61]
Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance (Television or Film) BoJack Horseman Nominated
Black Reel Awards Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series Insecure Won
Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series Nominated
2020 BET Awards Best Actress Won [62]
TCA Awards Outstanding Individual Achievement in Comedy Nominated [63]
Black Reel Awards Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series Won [64]
Outstanding Comedy Series Won
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series A Black Lady Sketch Show Nominated
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Insecure Nominated [65]
Outstanding Comedy Series Nominated
Outstanding Variety Sketch Series A Black Lady Sketch Show Nominated [66]
2021 Critics' Choice Television Awards Best Actress in a Comedy Series Insecure Nominated [67]
MTV Movie & TV Awards Best Comedic Performance Nominated [68]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture The Photograph Nominated [69]
Outstanding Guest Performance in a Comedy or Drama Series Saturday Night Live Nominated
Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series Insecure Won
Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy Nominated [70]
BET Awards Best Actress Nominated [71]
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series A Black Lady Sketch Show Nominated [72]

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.

References[edit]

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External links[edit]