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 33)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Other names Joissa Diop
Alma mater Stanford University
  • Actress
  • writer
  • director
  • producer
Years active 2011–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 performance in Insecure, she has received two Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy and a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.[6]

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

Rae was born in Los Angeles, California.[1] Her father, Dr. Abdoulaye Diop, is a pediatric doctor from Senegal, and her mother, Delyna Diop (née Hayward), is a teacher from Louisiana, who is African-American.[9][10][11] Rae's parents met in France, when they were both in school. She 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 she 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 where Rae said 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

Rae's web series Awkward Black Girl premiered on YouTube in 2011. 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 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.[16][17][18] 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.[19]

Rae eventually partnered up with Pharrell and premiered season two of the series on his YouTube channel, iamOTHER.[20] Rae also began releasing other content on her original channel, predominantly created by and starring people of color.[21]

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.[22]

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.[23]


In 2013, Rae began working on a comedy series pilot with Larry Wilmore, in which she would star.[24] 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.[25] Since its release in 2016, the series has gone on to receive 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, twentysomething black woman."[26]

In 2017, the American Film Institute selected it as one of the top 10 television programs of the year.[27] For her performance in Insecure, Rae has earned two Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy, in 2017 and 2018, as well as a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 2018.[6]

On November 14, 2016, HBO renewed the show for a second season.[28] The second season premiered on July 23, 2017.[29] On August 8, 2017, it was announced that the show was renewed for a third season,[30] which premiered on August 12, 2018.

Issa Rae Productions

Issa Rae gained her popularity due majorly due to becoming famous from web series Awkward Black Girl. This led to Issa Rae Productions, a production company that focuses on providing creator an opportunity to be discovered by television and film companies by airing their content on the internet[31]. Rae's production YouTube Channel is now called Issa Rae Presents. This has become a platform for people of colour to present their filmography to her current followers. The content dives into various topics such as sexuality, mental illness and daily life issues through the lives of black folks.

There are focused episodes where Issa Rae and her team dive into how to be successful in the studio. Each episode has a different job streams of talent (creator, director, marketing) and how to achieve success with the selected job[32].

Many of the collaborators on Issa Rae Productions Youtube channel are predominately black creators.


Giants [33] is a Youtube web-series written and directed by James Bland, this series premiers on Issa Rae Presents.

The show focuses on mental health, masculinity, sexuality and police brutality in the black Community. Giants had won the 2018 Indie Series Awards for Best Web Series and was a nominee for two daytime Emmy’s.

Other web series include DUMPED, WE ARE – which touch upon relationships. Other various short films are also showcased for #ShortFilmSundays. A new short film by a new creator on the first of every Sunday. These short films often touch upon black experiences with hair, misogyny, racism, relationships and family.


Fruit [34] is a podcast that debuted in 2016 written and produced by Issa Rae. This podcast is available on Howl Premium[35]and Issa Rae Productions.

The podcast is a fictional story told by X, a black American football player who is nervous to come out. This podcast dives into sports business, self-discovery, sexual exploration and hyper-masculinity and especially expectations placed male athletes[36].


In 2018, Issa Rae launched a joint venture with ColourCreative.TV [37]and Talos Films in union with Sky Vision.

This launch is focuses on female and minority TV writers who are underrepresented the mainstream media. ColourCreative.TV is the platform for individuals to create and sell content internally and externally of the Hollywood Studio.

Mentors who help the writers include various co-excutive producers, writers, directors, creators and comedians[38]. Some mentors are Dana Lynne North (Insecure), Justin Simien (DEAR WHITE PEOPLE), Sarah Gertrude Shapiro (unreal), Dan Powell (INSIDE AMY SCHUMER and UGLY AMERICANS), Jermaine Johnson (3ARTS ENTERTAINMENT), Sarah Benincasa (GREAT and DC TRIP).

A Sip

In 2017, A Sip is broadcast by ColourCreative.TV. A Sip [39] is an unplanned conversation with talented minorities about their pathway to success that is hosted by Issa Rae.

The location of the conversations are intentionally located in South Los Angeles[40], United States. The location is meant to be specifically taken place in communities of colour in order to inspire creativity.

The purpose of these conversations is to let famous minorities and females have representation and for viewers to ignite creatives and the explore their own journey unconventionally.

Guests who have been featured on this show include Lena Waithe, Ava DuVernay, Barry Jenkins, Kofi Siriboe, Michael B. Jordan, Sean “Diddy” Combs, and Janelle Monae.

Other work

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

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.

In media

In 2012, Rae was included on the annual Forbes '30 Under 30' list in the entertainment section.[41]

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.[42] Rae expressed her desire for more people of color working in production behind the scenes to make a lasting impact in the television industry.[42]


  • 2011–2013: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl (TV series short) -- Actor, 24 episodes; Director; Writer, 1 episode: "The Sleepover" (2012); Producer, 1 episode: "The Check" (2013)
  • 2012: M.O. Diaries (TV series) -- Executive Producer
  • 2012: The Couple (TV series) -- Actor, 1 episode: "Exes and Texts" as Lisa
  • 2012–2013: The Number (TV series short) -- Actor, 6 episodes as Lisa
  • 2013: How Men Become Dogs (TV series) -- Executive Producer, 9 episodes
  • 2013: True Friendship Society (TV series) -- Actor, 1 episode: "Pilot Part Two" as Mama Moth
  • 2013: My Roommate the (TV series) -- Actor, 1 episode: "Awkward Black Girl" as J
  • 2013: Instacurity (TV series) -- Actor, 1 episode: "The Birthday Party" as Issa
  • 2013: Pharrell Williams: Happy (Video short) -- Dancer
  • 2013: Little Horribles (TV series) -- Executive Producer, 3 episodes; Actor, 1 episode: "Sexual Activity" as Best Friend
  • 2013-2015: The Choir (TV series) -- Executive Producer, 12 episodes; Director, 2 episodes: "Genesis" and "New Blood"; Writer, 12 episodes
  • 2013: Inside Web Series (TV series documentary) -- Executive Producer, 6 episodes
  • 2013: Black Actress (TV series) -- Producer
  • 2013–2014: Roomieloverfriends (TV series) -- Executive Producer, 4 episodes
  • 2014: Hard Times (Video short) -- Executive Producer
  • 2014: So Jaded (TV movie) -- Executive Producer
  • 2014: Words with Girls (TV movie) -- Executive Producer
  • 2014: Bleach (TV movie) -- Executive Producer
  • 2014: Head Cases (TV series) -- Executive Producer
  • 2014: Black Twitter Screening (Short) -- Writer
  • 2014: Rubberhead (TV movie) -- Actor, Segment: "Absorption" as Bride 2
  • 2014: Protect and Serve (Short) -- Executive Producer; Actor as Police Recruit
  • 2014: A Bitter Lime—Actor as Jane Johnson
  • 2014–2015: First (TV series) -- Co-Executive Producer, 10 episodes; Co-Producer, 1 episodes
  • 2015: Killing Lazarus—Producer
  • 2015: Get Your Life (TV series) -- Executive Producer
  • 2016–present: Insecure (TV series) -- Executive Producer, Writer, Actor, 16 episodes
  • 2018: The Hate U Give
  • 2018: Nice for What (Music video) -- Herself

Works and publications

  • 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. 12 January 1985.
  2. ^ a b c d Wortham, Jenna (4 August 2015). "The Misadventures of Issa Rae". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Gopalan, Nisha (28 February 2013). "Issa Rae on Awkward Black Girl, Her Shonda Rhimes Show, and Hating L.A. Guys". Vulture.
  4. ^ Hughes, William (23 June 2016). "Issa Rae is still an Awkward Black Girl in the trailer for HBO's Insecure". The A.V. Club.
  5. ^ Respers France, Lisa (5 July 2016). "Issa Rae's 'Insecure' may already be a hit". CNN.
  6. ^ a b "Issa Rae". Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  7. ^ Kang, Inkoo (7 August 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 (1 October 2014). "Issa Rae's Color Creative Calls for TV Diversity". EBONY.
  9. ^ a b Gray, Emma (5 November 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 (16 February 2015). "Issa Rae on Her New Memoir and Being "Halfrican"". Chicago.
  11. ^
  12. ^ Brown, Stacia L. (10 February 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 (26 July 2011). "5 Questions for Issa Rae on 'Awkward Black Girl'". Essence.
  16. ^ Whitfield, Fredricka (8 October 2011). "'Awkward Black Girl' web hit" (video interview). CNN.
  17. ^ Anderson, Stacy A. (12 September 2011). "Diverse Web series grows through social media". The Philadelphia Tribune. The Associated Press.
  18. ^ Andrews, Helena (6 July 2011). "Embracing the Awkward, One Webisode at a Time". The Root.
  19. ^ "Update 1: Update Video: Thank You for Over $40K Raised!". The Misadventures of AWKWARD Black Girl. Kickstarter. 8 August 2011.
  20. ^ Shannon (15 June 2012). "Pharrell Williams Teams Up With Awkward Black Girl & Launches New Brand". Pink is the New Blog.
  21. ^ Caramanica, Jon (13 July 2012). "Issa Rae and 'Awkward Black Girl' Are Breaking Ground". The New York Times.
  22. ^ Sherman, S. (2015). Issa Rae, "Making The black Experience Relatable". Sun Reporter, 9.
  23. ^ Favreau, Jon (16 December 2016). "Creativity Roundtable: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Donald Glover, Issa Rae and Damien Chazelle in One Epic Conversation" (Video roundtable includes transcript). The Hollywood Reporter.
  24. ^ "Issa Rae & Larry Wilmore To Create 'Non-Prophet' For HBO". Vibe. 6 August 2013.
  25. ^ "Issa Rae Comedy 'Insecure' Gets HBO Series Order". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2016-01-09.
  26. ^ "At TV Press Tour, Actors And Producers Of Color Speak Of Hollywood Struggles".
  27. ^ "AFI Awards 2017". Retrieved 2018-01-26.
  28. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (November 14, 2016). "'Westworld', 'Divorce' & 'Insecure' Renewed For Season 2 By HBO". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved November 14, 2016.
  29. ^ "Issa Rae on Twitter".
  30. ^ Lockett, Dee. "Insecure Is Hella Renewed for Season Three". Vulture. Retrieved 2017-08-08.
  31. ^ Schioldager, Arianna (11 December 2017). "Issa Rae on Failure, The Old Hollywood Boys Club & Throwing Chairs". Creative Cultivate. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  32. ^ Thomas, Eric (19 April 2018). "Meet Benoni Tagoe The Man Behind Issa Rae Productions Business Development". The Quintessential Gentleman. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  33. ^ Finley, Taryn (18 January 2017). "Issa Rae And Jussie Smollett Are Blessing Us With A New YouTube Series". Huffington Post. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  34. ^ Locker, Melissa (7 February 2016). "Issa Rae's Fruit: the podcast exploring hypermasculinity and sexuality". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  35. ^ Nagy, Evie (17 August 2015). "Is Howl The "Netflix Of Podcasts" We've Been Waiting For?". Fast Company Journal - Most Creative People. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  36. ^ Mitchell, Julian (21 December 2015). "Here's How Issa Rae's 'Fruit' Is Set To Shift The Paradigm Of Podcasting". Forbes. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  37. ^ Fuse Staff (13 February 2017). "FUTURE BLACK HISTORY MONTH: ISSA RAE IS 'AWKWARD,' 'INSECURE' & UNSTOPPABLE". Fuse.TV. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  38. ^ Chamber, La'Shawn (31 January 2017). "ColorCreative.TV/Issa Rae Is Looking For "UNDERREPRESENTED" Writers…..You". Campus Lately. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  39. ^ Kwateng-Clark, Danielle (16 May 2017). "'A SIP:' Issa Rae Gets The Tea From All Her Hollywood Friends In This New YouTube Series". Essence. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  40. ^ Kelley, Sonaiya (11 February 2018). "Issa Rae on why it's important for her to give back to L.A." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
  41. ^ "Forbes 30 Under 30". Forbes. 2014.
  42. ^ a b "Shonda Rhimes, Ava DuVernay, Debbie Allen, Mara Brock Akil and Issa Rae Cover ESSENCE's 'Game Changers' Issue". Retrieved 2018-01-26.

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