“The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” is a successful Web series produced by Issa Rae that explores the life of a young African American woman. “ABG’s” main character, “J,” humorously goes through the daily challenges of everyday life; from the complexities of dating a white man and managing difficult co-workers to finding her rhythm at a friend’s birthday party.
In a recent interview with rolling out, Rae discussed the inspiration for the series and what it means to be an awkward black girl. –karimu abena hamilton
Tell us about yourself.
I am Senegalese American. My dad is Senegalese and my mom is from Louisiana. I was born in L.A., [and I] lived in Senegal, Maryland and L.A. [I am] the middle [child] of five kids. Three boys, and two girls including myself.
Are you the prototype for the lead character?
“Awkward Black Girl” is an extension of me. She’s just insecure in her environment and doesn’t really know how to handle what most people would deem simple social situations. She’s also awkward in the sense that she’s not “typically” black. She’s not mainstream media’s depiction of black women by any means.
What inspired you to create this series?
I was feeling pressured by my father to go to grad school and kept watching my friends pursue their careers and I refused to go the same route. I had been sitting on the idea for two years, making excuses about why I couldn’t do it, and then I read an article in Clutch Magazine where the writer was asking, “Where’s the Black Liz Lemon?” After reading her article I panicked that someone else would read it and create my idea before me. I stopped making excuses as to why I couldn’t do it and just called up my friends and shot it guerilla style.
White Jay — what was the impetus for the creation of that character?
White Jay, or “Jay” as he was written in the script, was initially supposed to be a one-episode character. We inserted him because Tracy, our producer, thought that having a white character would attract a white audience and we wanted to include some temporary competition for Fred. However, after we aired the fifth episode, the comments were full of “#TeamWhiteJay” supporters. Thus, a fan-created love triangle was formed as we continued to develop this character. For the record, viewers named him “White Jay” not us.
What forms of entertainment did you enjoy during your childhood and later as an adult?
As a child, I pretty much watched everything. I remember vividly watching “SNICK” on Nickelodeon and “TGIF” on Fridays and thinking that I wanted to be a part of those shows in some way. Then ’90s television came along, in all of its black glory, and I loved seeing people who looked like me on television. But then when those shows started disappearing, I started relating to shows like “Seinfeld,” “The Office,” “Arrested Development” and “30 Rock,” but those shows didn’t really have many characters of color, if any at all, so I sought to change that.
What’s next for “ABG?”
I actually came up with the brand, “I’m Awkward. And Black” before I came up with the series. I believed strongly in the identity as a brand and hope to expand it enough so that it can sustain itself, without the series. Also, I’d love to do an “Awkward Black Girl” film. That would be awesome.
How do you and your team handle the production duties?
Everybody who works on “ABG” has like 10 roles. I direct, produce, write, act and edit. Tracy acts, produces and writes. Shea is our cinematographer, director, editor and cameraman. Benoni and Madison handle our sales, marketing and social media strategy. For season two, we’re looking to divvy some of those roles to others.
What advice do you have for producers in terms of getting their work out there for the world to see?
Work with like-minded, dedicated individuals to produce content. Be extremely patient. [And] release it online.