Ten years ago, Issa Rae debuted a new character on her YouTube channel with the blunt introductory line, “My name is J and I’m awkward and Black,” and thus kicked off her 25-episode series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.” Taking inspiration from a Clutch article (“Where’s the Black version of Liz Lemon?” by Leslie Pitterson) and her own life experience, Rae used the videos to present an authentic look at the lives of millennial Black women in America. The series’ popularity over its two-year run eventually led to the HBO adaptation “Insecure,” which premiered in the fall of 2016. With the show now in the midst of its fifth and final season, Rae is looking to finally earn the recognition of her peers by becoming a Screen Actors Guild Award nominee.
Rae began creating YouTube content in 2007, the same year she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stanford University. She built a substantial audience by regularly releasing episodes of her series “Dorm Diaries” and “The ‘F’ Word,” and those viewers were instrumental in spreading the word about her first acting endeavor as J. Her newfound mainstream fame led to a producing partnership with musician Pharrell Williams ahead of the show’s second season. Following the series finale, she teamed with Larry Wilmore to develop what would become “Insecure” while simultaneously creating more YouTube series such as “The Choir,” “Black Actress,” and “First.”
Although Rae’s alter ego changed from call center worker J to nonprofit employee Issa Dee when she moved to HBO, the hilariously self-deprecating tone she established in her web series carried over seamlessly. Over the years, the character has walked viewers through the ups and downs of her dating life, which, even at this late stage, remains just as anxiety-inducing as ever. In keeping with the show’s central theme, she has experienced significant personal and professional growth, but, to her chagrin, still does not have all the answers to life’s problems.
The fifth season of “Insecure” has been called a “joyous affair that serves as a fitting swan song” (Claire Spellberg Lustig, Primetimer), and Rae has been attracting her usual share of individual praise as the show’s driving force. Critics have noted how she has fully settled into the role of Issa Dee as well as the “grace” and “excellent chemistry” she displays with her castmates (Radhika Menon, Paste). While her work on “Insecure” has led to other TV and film roles, it remains her greatest achievement. As Ashley Ray-Harris (The A.V. Club) puts it, she stands as a “rare creative who has a living legacy.”
Rae’s performance on “Insecure” has brought her two Emmy nominations as well as wins at the BET Awards, Black Reel Awards, and NAACP Image Awards. According to our SAG odds, she is running fifth in the race for Best TV Comedy Actress behind 2021 Emmy winners Jean Smart (“Hacks”) and Hannah Waddingham (“Ted Lasso”), as well as Elle Fanning (“The Great”) and Sandra Oh (“The Chair”). She and her fellow “Insecure” actors also have a shot at nabbing their first Best TV Comedy Ensemble nomination, as they are currently in eighth place behind the casts of “Ted Lasso,” “Hacks,” “Only Murders in the Building,” “The Great,” “What We Do in the Shadows,” “The Kominsky Method,” and “Cobra Kai.”
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