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“Insecure” is a Great Representation of Blackness, and Here’s Why

Issa Rae stars in a new HBO comedy, “Insecure.” PHOTO/ Joslyn Wilburn – Flickr Creative Commons
Issa Rae stars in a new HBO comedy, “Insecure.” PHOTO/ Joslyn Wilburn – Flickr Creative Commons

By Tyrice Hester

Published: October 18th, 2017

Since its debut, the critically acclaimed HBO series, “Insecure,” has garnered a lot of praise in its representation of everyday blackness in both the eyes of the media and of Americans. This year, the show received its first Golden Globe nomination, and HBO confirmed its renewal for a third season. But people have questioned whether the show is an authentic representation of blackness, or if it perpetuates negative stereotypes.

In order to appreciate “Insecure” as a radical black television phenomenon, it’s important to note what realm it operates in; Hollywood is a predominantly white institution, and recently we’ve witnessed them push for diversity—a now ubiquitous word—in order to incorporate voices it would otherwise overlook. Hollywood’s inclusivity—and I use that word specifically because one group of people has the power to consciously include or exclude another—sometimes misses the mark. Because Hollywood is a predominately white institution, writer rooms reflect that homogenous makeup. What we sometimes see is an upsurge in colorful casts and minority characters without the inclusion of that community or the necessary research done to showcase them accurately and authentically. Despite the most talented writer and his well-intentioned undertaking, if he doesn’t get it, he simply doesn’t get it. Herein is a dichotomy.

Yes, minorities physically see themselves on the television, but on the contrary, the identity of the characters are unfamiliar because the nuances of their culture do not always translate in the ways the characters operate. I question if this is a meaningful attempt to create authentic characters or if characters are performing caricature versions of themselves.

What makes “Insecure” radical and great is the eponymous main character, Issa, who co-creates, writes, and stars as the leading lady of the series. Issa Rae, whose real name is Jo-Issa Rae Diop, is a black woman producing content exclusively about black women and black culture. I cannot think of a more authentic representation; her lived experience informs the characters’ identity. In addition, Issa staffs her crew with people who have an inherent knowledge of blackness. This is a vital component in accurate representation, and huge in terms of increasing the workforce with talented minorities, who have always been capable of doing the work.

As to whether “Insecure” is a positive representation of black people amongst a wider audience is subjective and relative to who is asked to answer. Blackness isn’t monolithic, and so of course the content of the show is contentious. In the show, Issa and her best friend Molly often refer to each other (endearingly) as hoes and bitches, have casual sex, and inadvertently make questionable decisions. One might find these behaviors familiar and relatable, and another might fundamentally disagree and consider it a bad representation of black people that reinforce negative stereotypes. I would disagree.

Issa is creating meaningful content, based on real life experiences, exactly the way she sees fit. She has intentionally invented characters that are fundamentally flawed and human, which are two tropes that aren’t normally ascribed to black people on television. Because of this alone, I consider the show revolutionary and, by default, a positive representation of blackness because characters like Molly and Issa exist in the real world. I know them.

Rae has repeatedly expressed that she created the show for black people, and more specifically, black women. The fact that “Insecure” continues to amass an incredibly diverse audience speaks to her talent. A recent report from Nielsen, shows “Insecure” viewership demographic is 61 percent non-black. It’s great that the show is being embraced by a wide audience who don’t necessarily have those experiences.

In my opinion, the show resists any attempt to be characterized as a bad representation of black people, or as a vehicle that perpetuates stereotypes of black dysfunction, simply because of the producer’s goals and intentions. What is commendable about “Insecure” lies in its content, or rather, what isn’t in its content. Issa has stated that she wanted the show to be a reflection of her life and friends, and that it isn’t rooted in “the struggle” or the “dramatic burdens of being black” but instead it’s allowed to be carefree in the same way that whiteness in television is allowed to be.

On “Insecure,” there are no token black sidekicks or one-dimensional characters. The show doesn’t explain what blackness is, or give context clues to inside jokes or nuances of everyday black life. There are simply fully developed characters living in their truths, and allowed to be complex and imperfect. For black characters within television, that’s radical and positive.

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