The Collegian
Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Beyond the Screen: The Real Issa Rae

Issa Rae at Camp Concert Hall on Feb. 23. Photo by Anabelle Zong.
Issa Rae at Camp Concert Hall on Feb. 23. Photo by Anabelle Zong.

Presented by the UR Center for Student Involvement, Student Center for Equity and Inclusion and the Modlin Center of the Arts, "An Evening with Issa Rae" brought the acclaimed actress to UR's Camp Concert Hall on Friday evening. 

"This marks an important year for our university, which is honoring 50 years of Black History Month celebrations on our campus,” Dean for Student Equity and Inclusion Morgan Russell-Stokes said. “And, of course, we had to do it big.” 

The event was moderated by GeNienne Samuels, '97, an evening anchor for WTVR CBS 6 and a former Washington Commander and Washington Wizards cheerleader. She brought out her cheerleader energy, coming out on stage chanting, "We are UR!"

Samuels introduced Rae, recognizing her impressive achievements. She highlighted Rae's initial acclaim with the award-winning web series "Awkward Black Girl," followed by her creation and starring role in the Peabody Award-winning HBO show "Insecure." Samuels also underscored Rae's contributions to the big screen, including notable roles in "The Photograph," "The Lovebirds" and “Barbie,” in which she portrayed President Barbie. Furthermore, she emphasized Rae's entrepreneurial spirit with the establishment of Hoorea in 2020, a dynamic media company dedicated to pushing boundaries in storytelling and representation.

Despite Rae's fame, she initially aimed to relate to the audience on a personal level. She shared personal anecdotes, revealing her love for black coffee, regimented routines and making a playful shout-out to all the Capricorns in attendance.

Rae made the audience roar in laughter when she said, "My favorite thing to do is nothing.” She went on to explain her delight in switching off her brain and indulging in the simple pleasure of watching reality television.

Rae went on about prioritizing time for herself.

"I used to think I had to say ‘yes, yes, yes,’ and ‘go, go, go,’" she said. "I remember I was on a book tour, traveling from, I believe, New York to D.C. by train. Suddenly, the train broke down in the snow, and I found myself having to drag my luggage. I broke down crying. At that moment, I realized nobody was looking out for me. If you don't take care of yourself, I don't take care of myself, you are almost a product to people at the end of the day."

Samuels shifted the conversation to talk about Rae’s experience of being a black woman in the entertainment industry. Rae said, "I had so many experiences with producers and executives that made me feel like an average black girl would not be accepted on television."

Rae said she uses other people's negativity as motivation to rise in her career. 

"I'm not delusional, but you have to be a little bit,” she said. “You have to be a little bit stubborn. I know that there has to be a way to make this happen, and then I'll be good. I have to try, and if it doesn't work out in these 30 different ways, then I'll back off and understand that it's not meant to be."

Navigating challenges within the entertainment industry, Rae drew from her time at Stanford University, a predominantly white institution similar to UR. Transitioning from a predominantly black and Latino high school, Stanford was a stark "culture shock" for her. Despite having friends of diverse backgrounds, she found comfort in a specific community of friends who shared similar experiences, allowing her to converse and find a sense of belonging.

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Rae said that her devotion to finding a community during her college experience has influenced her most successful works, such as "Awkward Black Girl" and "Insecure." 

"I'm this awkward, socially anxious person,” she said. “I have these works called ‘Insecure.’ So it's very clear that I'm telling you something. Even then, I was searching for a community. It stems from the fact that I can't be the only one who feels this awkward way sometimes. Like I don't know whether or not to say ‘hi’ if someone walks by the hallway twice.”

Near the conclusion of the evening, the event transitioned into a Q&A session. During this segment, Rae seized the opportunity to inspire and motivate audience members to pursue their passions.

One question posed by Jenice Young, a student from Virginia Union University, resonated particularly well with the audience. She asked, "Do you have advice for individuals struggling to relinquish power, position, and privilege and make room for others?"  Rae’s response was succinct yet impactful: "Tell them to ‘move bitch.’" This elicited a thunderous round of applause from the audience that lasted several seconds.

To conclude the event, Rae drew inspiration from her mirror talks, a signature element of her show "Insecure." Rising from her chair, she locked eyes with the audience and delivered a powerful message: "Nobody does anything like you. No one has eyes like you do. No one walks the way you do. And no one thinks the way that you do. There is only one you, and that's the best you."

Contact lifestyle editor Emma Galgano at emma.galgano@richmond.edu

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