I’ll never forget the first time I watched The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl on YouTube. Up until that moment, I never witnessed another quirky Black woman with the same unique approach to life’s situations. My entire life I grew up feeling like a social misfit that laughed at the wrong punch lines of a joke. It wasn’t until I saw Issa Rae’s character J on YouTube, that I felt seen and understood.
I am a die hard fan of Issa Rae’s work, but I also admire her drive and hustle. From YouTube to Netflix and HBO, her hard work and dedication put her on the road to success. So when I heard she was offering a MasterClass that details her blueprint to effective script writing, character development, and strategy I had to watch.
February 3rd marks 10 years since the debut of Awkward Black Girl, a web-series that catapulted Issa Rae’s career into what we see today. Women from across the world felt like they found their tribe when they witnessed a Black character that was socially awkward, often misunderstood, and extremely eccentric. In Issa’s MasterClass, she explains why it was important for her to create J’s character.
“I remember writing down the phrases “I am awkward” and “I am Black” after having an epiphany in my New York closet-sized apartment. It was an accumulation of all of these social anxieties that I had. It also came from watching shows like 30 Rock and Seinfeld and this one David Kroschel show called The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Maragret and identifying with different parts and all of the shows. The word awkward just resonated with how I thought I acted or how I thought I was,” Issa said.
“That character and that archetype was a void that other people were noticing. That was definitely made apparent to me when I read an article that was basically like “where is the Black version of Liz Lemon?” That is Tina fey’s character on 30 Rock. I was like man, I keep making all these excuses about why I can’t make it and someone else is going to read that article and they’re going to make this character. That really, really lit a fire under my ass,” she continued.
That birthed the awkward, mirror-rapping, hallway conversation-avoiding, white boy-dating woman we grew to love. For Issa, it was about pulling inspiration from other quirky actresses while creating a character she’d never seen on television before. When she was presented with the opportunity to take Awkward Black Girl from YouTube to the big screen, an executive wanted to change the face of the character by casting a light skinned celebrity that didn’t embody the qualities J had. After recognizing that the world resonated with J’s darker skin and quirky attitude, Issa felt it necessary to turn down the offer so that she could stay true to her audience.