Rooting for everybody Black: ‘Insecure: The End’ showcases Issa’s blueprint for enriching the Black community
OPINION: Not only was show creator and star Issa Rae rooting for everybody Black on screen, sis was also putting in the work behind the scenes too.
Words cannot describe the level of admiration that fills my body when I think about the sheer magic that blossomed from Issa Rae’s brain and morphed into the show that we love to love, Insecure. Watching HBO’s documentary Insecure: The End was a deep dive into just how awesome she and this show have been to the collective empowerment of our communities. And after watching, I developed an even greater appreciation for her brilliance and commitment to Black people.
Not only was Issa rooting for everybody Black on screen, sis was also putting in the work behind the scenes too. To hear her crew discuss how intentional they were about supporting the Black community in every instance possible — even down to making sure Black designers were featured in the wardrobe — is an amazing example of how we as Black people can be intentional about opening the doors for other Black people when we have the opportunities. The purposeful actions of Issa and her crew were basically a blueprint for how we can further support our Black community and build each other up.
We need to see more of this.
To add to the beauty of it all, the documentary dropped on the first day of Kwanzaa — Umoja, meaning unity. Issa unified an entire scattered village of Black L.A. creatives, who had their hands in various Hollywood projects, and elevated them to higher levels of visibility and opportunity. She created a real ass family in Hollywood, which can arguably be seen as the fakest place on earth. (Or so I heard. Don’t shoot the messenger.)
And she did it without switching up. She was loyal to the soil in every way. She stepped into Hollywood dripping with authenticity, and didn’t let them force her to change her essence. Kujichagulia — self determination, to define ourselves for ourselves. She was all of that. That’s arguably the biggest reason that her blueprint worked so well. She spoke her truth, stood firmly on what she was about, and Hollywood made way for her.
Some of us think that when we finally get on, we have to play the game, look “the part,” and give others what they want, but the beauty of the blueprint that Issa has laid out is that it’s proof that you can be unapologetically Black and still get the coins. You don’t have to twist into a pretzel and be what others want you to be. You can decide what you’re about and stay rooted in it.
She was unyielding in her desire to support Black people. Her showrunner was Black. Her director was Black. Her writers were Black. The head of makeup, Black. Costume designer, Black. Hairstylists, Black. Drivers, Black. Black people were in the building for this moment, and I think that’s part of what allowed it to be so special. It was created for and by us.
The show’s executive producer Jim Kleverweis shared that “this is the first show that I’ve ever been on where —when I get into a scout van, which includes director, cinematographer, assistant director — that I’m the only White guy in the van. And that’s the first time in 30 years that that’s ever happened.”
This documentary gave us receipts showing why Insecure was more than just an entertaining show that we loved to live tweet. The documentary captured this model for how we can continue to support the Black community and build each other up when we get access to new spaces. Our individual come up, is our collective come up. Our success should translate into the success of our community.
That’s part of the work of building up our community. Collective work and responsibility. Ujima — the third day of Kwanzaa. Putting our people on is both a privilege and a duty. Kendrick Sampson, Nathan on Insecure, put it best in his farewell speech to Issa when he said that this type of work is part of our revolution.
“The way you showcase our humanity, and portray us with grace and accountability. The way you love your city. The way you love your people — Black people in your city — is part of the revolution,” Sampson told Issa. “We get us free …t here is no revolution without art.”
But this art also translated into cold hard cash and new opportunities for Black people and Black communities. Yvonne Orji, Insecure’s Molly, spoke about being broke when trying out for Insecure, and how the show changed her life in a major way. Deniese Davis, Insecure’s co-executive producer, noted that because of Insecure, there’s been roughly seven writers who’ve gone on to get their own overall deals, six writers who’ve become showrunners, two costume designers given new opportunities, and eight first-time directors given a chance to direct on Insecure.
Insecure’s showrunner Prentice Penny emphasized that the show always tried to open doors for as many people as possible, and that sentiment was echoed by other cast and crew as well.
“Issa Rae’s desire and mission is to promote the Black community,” Yvonne Orji shared. Issa has laid out the charge, and her crew is clear about the mission. “Insecure is more than just a comedy, it’s a part of a cultural movement,” Ava Berkofsky, director of photography, stated. “This show has been all about giving people that shot. I was given that shot, and I want to give that shot to other people.”
The show’s Black costume designer Shioni Turini agreed. “Diversity is always top of mind. In addition to just the team that we hire, we really try and focus on using and shooting and purchasing designers of color, Black women, young up-and-comers in LA,” to financially support designers of color within the community. Set designers were even given specific directives to find local Black art for the various art walk scenes that were prominent in seasons four and five. Issa was not playing any games when it came to representation.
Where else are they doing this intentionally and on a large scale? What other models exist that show such a successful collective effort to truly allow a rising tide to lift all boats within the Black community? What makes this model that Issa laid out for us so special is that because we’ve now seen it, we know it’s possible. As showrunner Prentice Penny explained, “sometimes in this country you don’t always get to think that things that look like you are possible. So that’s what I would hope the legacy behind it is … that it’s possible.”
What Issa and this entire Insecure crew accomplished was cooperative economics (Ujamaa) at its finest. Opening the doors of opportunity for Black artists, writers, designers, and just Black people in general, circulated money into the community on a grand scale. Even the local businesses featured financially benefited from the exposure with some of them having lines extending down the streets. This was a collective come up in a major way.
And while Kwanzaa just started, the remaining principles that we haven’t touched on — Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), Imani (faith) — are a major factor in how Issa was able to move her model of Black upliftment forward. You don’t step into a major market like Hollywood, betting on yourself and your gut without some kind of faith. You don’t even get in the door without creativity. And the purpose is your guiding light that keeps you on the path you set out to journey on. It keeps you clear that as Black people we have a duty to save ourselves. As Kendrick said, “we get us free.”
That sentiment is at the heart of this model of Black unity and collective building that Issa created with Insecure. She deserves credit for this. Creatively, we see her brilliance with what she’s done on the show and with the characters, but business-wise, she deserves our respect too.
“With this show, I’m most proud of the doors that it’s opened,” Issa shared. “Opening the doors for so much other talent behind the scenes, in front of the camera — I think that’s what we’ll be known for.”
Her efforts have been an inspiration to others, proving that both success and community support can coexist, and that the battle between supporting community and achieving personal success doesn’t truly have to be a battle at all. They are two oars, rowing and moving the same boat forward.
Kamaria is an attorney, poet, writer, and lover of all things created #ForTheCulture. She runs a blog, ‘Words of My Mother,’ has lived all over the DMV (heavy on the V), and enjoys skating, debating, and car karaoke. (Because, why not?!) She can be reached on Twitter at @like_tha_moon.
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