Issa Rae Calls Criticism Of New Sexual Fluidity Project ‘Him Or Her’ “Absolutely Ridiculous”, Talks ‘Insecure’ Season 3

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Issa Rae’s hit HBO comedy Insecure entered some dramatic territory in its second season, as the onscreen fictional Issa battled a break-up, a rent hike, workplace horrors and toxic friendships.

Still, through it all, Rae always manages to bring some laughs. But in her new, upcoming HBO project Sweet Lifeabout teen life in an LA suburb—she’s doing pure drama, alongside another comedy entitled Him or Her, the story of an African American man with a fluid sexuality. This latter project received some negative blowback from the black community before even having a chance to air, and Rae says of that response: “It hurt just to see the hate directed against that.

As Season 3 of Insecure approaches, Rae discusses her surprise at the show’s Peabody Award win, her need for a social media cleanse, and why, for now, she’s more into making television shows than films.

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Issa in the show is having a really horrible time. Will life get any better in Season 3?

I think that as life goes, you kind of learn from mistakes, and I think that’s what we’re really looking to show this season. After a while people will be like, “Oh, your life’s sh*t”, and then they’re going to expect you to do better. Like okay, great, you’ve got to do better, you got to go elsewhere. I mean that’s what we’re trying to show this season, from both of our worlds. You’re going to have to learn, and adult at this point. So we’ll see what that looks like.

I’m really hoping she gets rid of toxic Tiffany.

Ha! A frenemy. I think we’re going to get some layers to Tiffany this season, so I’m glad you said that.

You’ve said how this show is about you and your friends. Is their opinion on the show something that you seek out even now?

I don’t check with them beforehand. I do still very much use a lot of our relationship in the show and our relationship dynamic as our friendship sort of evolves, and so many things have happened within my own friendships the last five years. I even told a friend who came to the wrap party, “Girl, you’re about to be all up and through Episode 5.” She’s like, “What?” They see it as it comes and then they give me their thoughts.

Congratulations on getting the Peabody Award.

Thank you. That was such a huge surprise.

After winning you tweeted your thanks to other writers of color before you who’d had to take jobs they didn’t want in order to pave the way. Are there specific people you had in mind?

Yeah, I mean Mara Brock Akil, Yvette Lee Bowser. We have some on our show: Regina Hicks, Prentice Penny, obviously, as someone who started off on Girlfriends and has been through so many rooms where he’s been the only one. So thinking about just the legacy of writers before us who are now shepherding in the new black talent to the industry, I very much appreciate them and just the opportunity built to create freely.

Justina Mintz/HBO

What kind of feedback do you get from fans in terms of being part of a new wave of inclusivity in the industry?

You know, I kind of shut it all off because I’m always just deathly afraid of feeding into or believing the hype, and especially my own hype. I think for me it’s about from time to time, people will come up to me and say what the show means to them. I just read a fan letter today and I was like, “This is really nice.” I’m so grateful. I credit Shonda [Rhimes] for being able to open the door for black actresses, and even just black women having this sort of golden moment in terms of shaking the culture.

You see so many executives in so many networks chasing after their approval, our approval, and it really does show our time in a way, and it’s just really going to be interesting to see what we do with that time. And so far it’s promising because my peers are opening the doors for so many other people of color to get through. And of course for other women to get through, and so in that way it feels like such a great time.

You said recently you were going on a social media cleanse. Why? Does it affect your creativity? Are you still doing the cleanse?

It’s just too much. It could just be a cesspool of negativity. What I do miss about it sometimes, is just the up-to-the-minute news, and then I’m just, “Why do I even need that?” I got back on shortly before we finished filming and just for promotional stuff, and then I just got back off today or yesterday, whatever time. I love to take breaks when I can just because it can just be a lot. I like to be with my own thoughts. And it’s just, alright, as a creative I should be comfortable in finding solace in my own thoughts, and I’m just trying to get back in touch with me.

It’s a thing where it’s helped me definitely build my career, but I just don’t want to only be that. When I say something, I want it to mean something. I just want to use it to express myself in a positive way and not be sucked into the negativity of it all.

What have been some of the challenges of your third season of Insecure?

In every area, it’s just been challenging. It’s been a challenge of expectation. That challenge of complacency. It’s been the challenge of comfort. It’s been the challenge of challenging ourselves. And, just making sure that we don’t ever feel like we’re taking this moment for granted. I think with Season 2 we were, “Yeah, we did it! Season 2!” And it came so quickly, too. I don’t feel like we had enough time off. I know for me specifically, again, I was minding so many things that were recent in my life without having to push in the last 2 seasons. Now, creatively I was, “What am I trying to say here?”

Justina Mintz/HBO

It felt like we were just scraping. And with filming, it was just a whole different beast. It just felt more draining this season just because of some of the choices we made. And I was in it a lot more this season. There are so many things that I’m proud of as a whole with this season, but that I have also realized I will not do again.

You’re doing a new project, Him or Her, which is about sexual fluidity. Back in Season 1 of Insecure you had a storyline about that topic. Is that what brought you to this?

Travon Free—the writer, the creator of the project—approached us with it. And he said that episode of Insecure was a first time that he had felt like his story was being told in a way. And that conversation reflected so much of his personal experience. I think it was something that he’d been working on for a while, but I think that episode was just, “Oh, I’ve got to get this story out there.” And so it coincided with, we were looking for fresh voices, and he pitched that and it really excited me, because I’ve just never seen anything on TV like that. I’m just rooting for his show and he’s still working on it. It’s still very early.

There was some negativity online about it not being a welcome representation of black men. Did that feel painful?

I remember just being pissed all day. Sometimes you live in a bubble, you live in a liberal bubble where you think that everyone is open, and in my eyes progressive in a way where there are so many human experiences, black experiences, gender experiences. There are so many stories to tell. The fear that a story like that would be told when it’s the story of so many other people is just absolutely ridiculous. The censorship and the idea that black men can’t be all things and still be black men is just absurd, it is.

Telling all types of stories, straight, gay, trans, whatever it is. It’s not an experience that I have. But, I want to see all kinds of stories. We’re just scratching the surface, and there’s plenty of voices beyond me that are going to do that anyway.

Justina Mintz/HBO

You also have your one-hour HBO drama, Sweet Life. Can you talk about what went into choosing that project?

It comes from being obsessed with teen movies growing up, and coming-of-age stories, and the lack of representation. I just felt like we haven’t had very many great teen coming of age stories. What are our classic black teen movies and television shows? They’re far and few. I wanted to tap into the neighborhood I grew up in and the sort of class differences just within that period of time. And the differences between being a teenager when I grew up and being a teenager now.

I’m collaborating with another writer who grew up in that neighborhood at a different time, and it just feels like such an opportunity to have a voice or to represent a voice right now for black teens. I don’t want to feel like the old person talking for teens. It’s been really exciting to just have these conversations with people that age and see what they’re going through. I want to make sure that it’s really fresh.

Are you interested in making films? Is that in your future? Would you direct?

Directing, I have no desire currently. But writing, yes. But I will be a thousand percent honest, I don’t watch as many movies as I watch TV shows. There’s just something about television that I find more immediate, that still excites me, that I love. And, if I do write a feature, I want it to be insightful. I’m sure that’s what every writer says. I don’t want to just write one to write one. I want it to mean something to me. And it feels like because of the box office currently, so much of it is franchise reliant, and that just doesn’t appeal to me. But every so often with a Get Out or Sorry to Bother You, I just get excited to write one again. Sorry to Bother You is the latest to make me feel like, “Oh my God, I’m excited about movies again”, and I want to see what I can do. What I have to say.

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