raceAhead: Issa Rae On Calling Her HBO Show ‘Insecure’

July 20, 2017, 6:48 PM UTC
Celebrities Visit "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" - July 17, 201
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 17: Actress Issa Rae enters the "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" taping at the Ed Sullivan Theater on July 17, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Ray Tamarra/GC Images)
Ray Tamarra/GC Images

Fortune data editor Stacy Jones is filling in for Ellen McGirt while she dazzles everyone at Brainstorm Tech in Aspen, Colo. She’ll be back on Monday!

Last night, Fortune‘s sister publication Essence and Black Employees At Time Inc., one of the company’s six community groups, treated us to an advanced screening of the season two premiere of Insecure.

We were all sworn to keep hella quiet about the episode until it officially airs this Sunday on HBO at 10:30 pm EST, so I cannot and will not share any plot details. Not a single one. I can tell you, however, that actress, writer, producer, and director Issa Rae joined us for the screening and was kind enough to stick around for a really wonderful Q&A. I’ve been rocking with her since “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” was on YouTube, so it was a real treat to hear her talk about how she quit taking dead end 9-to-5 jobs to focus on her YouTube series and eventually her show with HBO.

While answering a question about other names that were considered for the series — one being “Nonprophit,” when the script focused more on the main character’s job at a non-profit and less on her friendship with Molly — she mentioned it was a challenge selling network executives on the name Insecure.

Shouldn’t it be about two strong black women, they asked? Aren’t those the kind of characters that should be portrayed on screen? It’s a credit to Rae and a gift to fans of the show that she prevailed. Because if she had agreed to invoke the “strong black woman” archetype, it would imply that only those women deserve to occupy space on primetime television. It would box in these characters, the way much of society already does, and erase large swaths of their personalities. We shouldn’t have to give up Hot Cheetos and headscarves for stilettos and finger wagging.

It made me think about an old boss, who could never get past his preconceived notions of me during our one year of working together.

A few months into the job, my Great Uncle Douglas passed away. I got the text message mid-morning and everything went muffled and fuzzy. I wandered over to my boss’s cubicle to tell him what had happened and ask if I could leave early and take a few days off to attend the funeral.

He grilled me about my connection to this dead relative. He wasn’t my uncle, he wanted to clarify—he was my great uncle. My grandfather’s brother. Had I actually been close to him?

I choked out a yes and stared. When he was silent, I lurched to fill the space to explain that we always went on fishing trips together. I’d been borrowing (and sometimes losing) his fishing lures for over two decades. I once carried an especially large crappie all the way from the dock to his campsite to show off — it’s not a Jones fishing trip unless you’re trying to stunt on everyone.

I was talking a mile a minute and my breathing got shallow when finally my boss let up and I left.

It seemed to me the only proper way to honor my Uncle Douglas, who I could also count on to keep me warm with dry clothes after rainstorm or just a slice of homemade pound cake, was with a fishing trip. I had outgrown sheepishly stealing gear from everyone else’s tackle box, so I placed an order and a box from Cabela’s was waiting on my desk when I returned from the funeral.

It took almost no time for my boss to zero in on it. Every time he came by, he’d gesture at the box and crack a new joke about how odd it was that I enjoyed fishing. How very strange that I enjoyed spending time outdoors despite my earlier (unnecessary) explanation.

Instead, what my boss saw was a black woman who had made a dubious request for time off to attend a distant relative’s funeral and was now sitting next to a box of things he couldn’t possibly imagine her needing. I resented him. I avoided company-sponsored social outings. I stopped wanting to do my best work.

So to hear Rae talk about standing up to a room full of network execs, her new bosses, and fight for two insecure black characters who have messy lives and are fully realized as complex characters? That’s a beautiful thing. That’s relatable. And I now have characters that I can see a little of myself in, not just the parts my boss and anyone else may choose to see in me.

I only wish I could have conjured up some of what helped Rae get through those meetings that day my boss cracked jokes at my expense, a grieving employee. But I won’t pretend I wasn’t gleeful the day I finally let him know that I was leaving and it was because of him.

On Point

A new series from the makers of Game of Thrones tackles a mythical ConfederacyGame of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have identified their next television project, a new HBO series called Confederate. It follows an alternate historical timeline in which the South has successfully seceded from the Union, setting up a scenario in which slavery remains legal and has morphed into a modern institution. From The Hollywood Reporter: “The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone — freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.” Hard pass, says every black person on Twitter.Hollywood Reporter

Britain’s advertising regulatory proposes new rules banning stereotypes in adverts
This week, Britain’s regulatory body covering advertising released a report announcing their plan to develop new rules banning advertising that promotes gender stereotypes, unhealthy body images, or objectifies women. I know, right? “Our review shows that specific forms of gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to harm for adults and children,” said the lead author of the report. Though developing the standards will take some finesse. “It would be inappropriate and unrealistic to prevent ads from, for instance, depicting a woman cleaning,” the report said. But, “an ad which depicts family members creating mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up” would be banned under the new rules.
The New York Times

Tampa commissioners vote to remove Confederate monument
After an occasionally emotional debate, the Hills­borough County commissioners in Tampa, Fla., affirmed yesterday to remove Memoria in Aeterna, a 106-year-old memorial to Confederate soldiers. The vote was 4-2. This was the second time in two years that the Republican-led commission voted to remove Confederate symbols from a public space. In 2015, the commission unanimously decided to give the Confederate flag, which hung in a county building, to a museum. Click through for all the local politics, and be pleasantly surprised that it was mostly a civilized affair, though there were some difficult moments. The monument is Tampa’s oldest statue. When it was dedicated in 1911, then-State Attorney Herbert Phillips, the keynote speaker, called African-Americans an "ignorant and inferior race." The statue will be removed to the private cemetery of a local family. There’s also a GoFundMe account to help defray the costs of the removal.
Tampa Bay Times

In a tiny neighborhood outside of New Delhi, a violent revolt of the maids has roiled the ruling class
The wealthy “madams” go shopping, to playgroups and to yoga classes. The working women who clean their homes and mind their kids live in a shanty town outside the gated community. This has been the way of life for decades, until earlier this week when a dispute between one maid and one madam erupted into a neighborhood-wide riot. Hundreds of maids, armed with rocks and iron rods forced their way into the home in protest. As a result, thousands of families have locked their maids out in fear. “The fact is that it is a symbiotic relationship between the madam and the maid,” said the head of security for the Mahagun Moderne complex in Noida, India. “Right now, the residents are very angry and shocked at the violent way the mob attacked the society. But before long, they will have to find new maids. How will life go on otherwise?”
The New York Times

Don’t like my headscarf? Just wait until you see my wig and zombie contacts
Sometimes heroes do wear capes. After being told by her boss that her headscarf was unprofessional, office worker June Rivas dug into the codes of conduct to find that cosplay was totally professional. (More of a gray area, really.) In defiance of her boss, whom she reported to the EEOC, she began showing up at work in various costumes, from Black Widow to a Vulcan and beyond. Click through for the glorious pictures. A co-worker popped up in the comments of this Kotaku piece to explain that the stunt worked and the headscarf ban has been removed. (They also explained that Rivas had no contact with the public while at work other than by phone or email.) Nobody said that the resistance had to be dull.
My Modern Met

Being trans at the beach
“The beach, the pool, the lake, or anywhere skin is expected to be shown can be emotional places for anyone with a body,” says Lia Clay. “But those of us who are trans have (at least) another layer of anxiety: Are we safe?” To answer that question, Clay, who is a white trans woman, took an epic road trip to discover what safety meant to trans people around the country. The photos and stories are gorgeous, enlightening, surprising, and in some cases, heartbreaking. "Being exposed at the beach can be nerve-wracking for anyone, but especially when your body is already treated constantly as a spectacle by cis people,” said one beachgoer. Said another, "I feel especially self-conscious and more dysphoric about my gender than usual when I'm at the pool, as swimming attire usually covers less skin. If I plan on swimming, I can't layer up to hide the parts of my body that I am dysphoric about.”
Refinery 29

Sherman Alexie and the ghost of his mother
Sherman Alexie is a beloved and highly acclaimed author – arrogant, bold and funny, with 26 award-winning books and films under his belt. He has been on tour after the publication of his first true memoir, about his mother Lillian, a woman he describes as “the lifeguard on the shores of Lake Fucked.” While Lilian was wholly responsible for his survival on the grim Spokane, Wash. reservation, she was not an easy or good mother. Alexie has suddenly halted his book tour, but not without a must-read letter to explain why. “Lillian haunted me when she was alive. And she has haunted me since her death in July, 2015,” he writes. “And she has haunted me in spectacular ways since I published my memoir a month ago. She has followed me from city to city during my promotional book tour.” He describes a series of amazing coincidences that he freely admits are open to interpretation, but that have also resurfaced his grief, depression and trauma. Dear readers and booksellers and friends and family, I am sorry to disappoint you. I am sorry that I will not be traveling to your cities to tell you my stories in person,” he says. “But I will be writing.” Alexie, n̓em heł wíčtmn.


Fishing provides that connection with the whole living world. It gives you the opportunity of being totally immersed, turning back into yourself in a good way. A form of meditation, some form of communion with levels of yourself that are deeper than the ordinary self.
— Ted Hughes

Read More

Great ResignationDiversity and InclusionCompensationCEO DailyCFO DailyModern Board