Issa Rae, writer and creator of the critically acclaimed HBO series “Insecure,” is hoping to cap off her recent rise to fame with a historic Emmy win for Best Comedy Actress this fall. Rae developed the series after feeling limited by the stereotypes of African-American women in Hollywood. It follows her character, Issa Dee, through the everyday experiences of an awkward, modern black woman. The audience reception was positive, and the eight-episode first season still holds a perfect 100% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. Rae now hopes to turn those positive reviews into Emmy gold.
Rae has been no stranger to accolades over the past year. In January she was a Golden Globe nominee for Best TV Comedy Actress, which went to her potential Emmy rival Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”). At the NAACP Image Awards she was edged out by Ross again for Best Comedy Actress, and she lost to “Black-ish” in the writing category as well. Rae has not gone home completely empty handed in 2017 though – she picked up the Vanguard Award from the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards and was honored as the New Voice at the Final Draft Awards for screenwriting.
Emmy voters do respect actors who are able to write and produce their own material. In 2008 Tina Fey not only took home the Best Comedy Actress award for “30 Rock,” but she also won for writing and producing it as well. Rae could be a similar triple-threat this year if she is also able to score nominations for Best Comedy Writing and Best Comedy Series. Multiple nominations could be the key to propelling Rae to the winner’s circle.
In the history of the Emmy Awards it has not been uncommon for edgy, first-year shows on subscription cable to take home some hardware. You could compare Issa Rae to Toni Collette in Showtime’s “United States of Tara,” Edie Falco in “Nurse Jackie” (also from Showtime), and of course the reigning five-time champ Julia Louis-Dreyfus in HBO’s “Veep.” If anyone is able to take down Louis-Dreyfus it may just be Rae, a rival from her own network. It is possible Emmy voters may also want to reward Rae as TV’s hip, new star – similar to America Ferrera’s 2007 win for “Ugly Betty.”
The cultural significance of Rae winning Best Comedy Actress should not be ignored either. In the 68-year history of the Emmy Awards only one black woman has taken this honor: Isabel Sanford in 1981 for “The Jeffersons.” Prior to Sanford’s historic win Diahann Carroll became the first African-American woman nominated in this category for “Julia”(1969).
Since then only three more black women have been nominated: Nell Carter (“Gimme a Break,” 1982-1983), Phylicia Rashad (“The Cosby Show,” 1985-1986) and the aforementioned Ross (“Black-ish,” 2016). Rae now hopes to become the seventh nominated and second to win, but she will have tough competition. Other strong contenders in the contest include Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”), Ross (“Black-ish”), Ellie Kemper (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), Lily Tomlin (“Grace and Frankie”) and Allison Janney (“Mom”).
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