Creator of Breakout Web Series Wants to See New Black Talent on TV

by | June 20, 2014 at 10:10 AM | Black Entertainment, Black Entertainment Originals, Can't Stop Watching, Scandal

Issa Rae (Photo: Issa Rae Productions)

If there’s a girl who’s on fire, it’s definitely Issa Rae. The filmmaker won our hearts when she debuted her hilarious award-winning web series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” three years ago. She quickly followed up with a sophomore season and expanded to include other web series such as “Roomieloverfriends” and “Ratchetpiece Theater.” Her witty and realistic storytelling style has landed her on the radar of a few Hollywood bigwigs including ABC. Though the alphabet network passed on the project she and Shonda Rhimes, the mastermind behind “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” pitched, Issa says she learned plenty and enjoyed the process. But when you’re a girl who’s on fire, opportunities will continue to present themselves. And for Issa, another door opened last year when she and veteran TV writer Larry Wilmore partnered to develop a TV pilot for HBO.

“The show is called ‘Non-Prophet.’ There’s no air date yet. It’s still early in development and is about an awkward black girl who works at a nonprofit by day and aspires to be a rapper at night,” shares Issa, who will release a memoir of her awkward misadventures in January. 

Kudos! Issa talked with XFINITY about working with Larry Wilmore and Shonda Rhimes as well as her favorite TV shows and her hopes for black women and TV. If you want more Issa, you’re in luck. In addition to this Q&A, you’ll have a chance to get more familiar with her this weekend when she joins me in covering the 18th Annual American Black Film Festival (ABFF) in New York City. XFINITY’s Celebrate Black TV will give you an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the popular film festival including interviews with Chadwick Boseman and the rest of the “Get on Up” cast, Mo’Nique, Spike Lee, Morris Chestnut and many more. Follow us on social media with hashtag #XFINITYatABFF and check back at CelebrateBlackTV.com

How was it working with Larry Wilmore on your HBO project? 

It’s going great. We just turned in a final draft and I’m really excited to be working with him and HBO. I love working with him. I’ve just been blessed with experiences so far. We’ll see what happens with it.

Larry also has other projects going on. His show “The Minority Report” will replace “The Colbert Report” when Stephen Colbert takes over “The Late Show.” What can you tell us about Larry that we may not already know? 

He’s so hilarious. It’s just a perfect fit. The confidence that he’s instilled in me as a writer and just standing your ground in terms of not necessarily compromising my vision. He’s just really been great about learning everything that there is to learn about me to make it great for the script. It was just so easy going. We would just sit and write for hours and it would just feel like we were having a conversation. The writing experience was completely stress free.

A lot of people don’t know that he’s won an Emmy and a Peabody–pretty much any award you can win for writing. He’s extremely humble about it. He’s written on so many shows that were influential like “The Office” and “In Living Color.” He created “The Bernie Mac Show.” A lot of people don’t realize that he’s had a long career outside of working on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” 

You also had the opportunity to work with Shonda Rhimes. How was that experience? 

It was great. It was my first television experience and they were just open to a lot of my ideas and concepts. Sometimes I’m just a little too colorful and raw and they were really, really open and tried to help me filter it in a way that would be appropriate for ABC. I would jump at the chance to work with them again.

What TV shows are you really feeling right now?

“Veep” and I really love “Game of Thrones” and “Scandal.” I’m so excited about Shonda Rhime’s new project “How to Get Away with Murder.” I also watch “Sons of Anarchy”–I watch a lot of cable television.

What are your thoughts about the number of black actresses returning to TV? 

I do love it because a lot of these actors aren’t finding work in film where they have previously gotten a lot of work and it makes a lot of sense that they would transition into television. At the same time, I still would love to see new talent break. I think there’s still the mentality in network television and just generally that in order for a show with a black lead to succeed they have to be a celebrity and a known name. And that’s something I’ve been told in the past and I kind of want to get out of that because there’s so much unexplored, undiscovered talent that’s out there and I want to see new faces. Of course, I generally respect and want to see the celebrities that have been cast already but I want to see a balance.

Do you think Hollywood will be more open to this? 

I’m optimistic about things changing. Hopefully this is not just a wave that will disappear again. I don’t think that it will. Just with the Internet, people are really more vocal about what they want to see.

What films are you excited about? 

I’ve just been a TV fanatic. I was telling someone about that the other day. I don’t watch as many films as I do movies anymore just because I tend to get invested in characters and I want to get invested in characters for a longer period of time.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.