Jo-Issa "Issa" Rae Diop (born January 12, 1985) is an American actress, writer, director, producer and web series creator. She is best known as the creator of the YouTube web series Awkward Black Girl. Since the premiere of Awkward Black Girl, Rae has developed her own YouTube platform where she features various content created by people of color. Rae's shows have garnered over 20 million views and over 260,000 subscribers on YouTube.
|Born||Jo-Issa Rae Diop
January 12, 1985
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Other names||Joissa Diop|
|Alma mater||Stanford University (2007)|
|Occupation||Director, writer, actress, producer, web series creator|
|Known for||Awkward Black Girl, Insecure|
Rae was born in Los Angeles, California. Her father, Dr. Abdoulaye Diop, is a pediatric doctor from Senegal, and her mother, Delyna Diop (née Hayward), is a teacher from Louisiana. Rae's parents met in France, when they were both in school. She has four siblings. The family lived in Dakar, Senegal for a short period during her childhood. Her father has a medical practice in Inglewood, California.:xiii
As a child, Rae lived in Potomac, Maryland, where she grew up with "things that aren't considered 'black,' like the swim team and street hockey and Passover dinners with Jewish best friends." When she was in sixth grade, her family moved to the affluent View Park-Windsor Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles where she attended a predominantly black middle school where Rae said she was "berated for 'acting white'" and initially found it difficult to "fit into this 'blackness' I was supposed to be." Rae graduated from King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science, where she started acting. Her parents divorced when she was in high school.:100–102
In 2007, Rae graduated from Stanford University with a major in African and African-American Studies. As a college student, she made music videos, wrote and directed plays, and created a mock reality series called Dorm Diaries for fun. At Stanford, Rae met Tracy Oliver, who helped produce Awkward Black Girl and starred on the show as Nina.
After college, Rae received a theater fellowship at The Public Theater in New York City. Oliver and Rae started taking classes together at the New York Film Academy. Rae worked odd jobs and at one point was struggling to decide between business school and law school, but abandoned both ideas when Awkward Black Girl started taking off in 2011.
Rae's web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl premiered on YouTube in 2011. The show follows the life of J (played by Rae) as she interacts with co-workers and love interests who place her in uncomfortable situations. The story is told through first-person narrative as J usually reveals how she feels about her circumstances through voice-over or dream sequence.
The series eventually went viral through word of mouth, blog posts, and social media, resulting in mainstream media coverage and attention. In an effort to fund the rest of the first season, Issa Rae and producer Tracy Oliver decided to raise money for the series through Kickstarter. On August 11, 2011 they were awarded $56,269 from 1,960 donations and released the rest of season one on Rae's YouTube channel.
Rae eventually partnered up with Pharrell and premiered season two of the series on his YouTube channel, iamOTHER. Rae also began releasing other content on her original channel, predominantly created by and starring people of color.
In 2013, Awkward Black Girl won a Shorty award for Best Web Show. Rae created Awkward Black Girl because she felt the Hollywood stereotypes of African-American women were limiting and she could not relate to them:
I've always had an issue with the [assumption] that people of color, and Black people especially, aren't relatable. I know we are.
By using YouTube as her forum, Rae was able to have autonomy of her work since she writes, films, produces, and edits all of her work. Rae's other shows—Ratchet Piece Theater, The "F" Word, Roomieloverfriends, and The Choir, among others—also focus on African-American experiences that are often not portrayed in the mainstream media.
In 2013, she began working on a comedy series pilot with Larry Wilmore, who in addition to being an actor has a long history of producing and writing television. The show would be about the awkward experiences of a contemporary African-American woman, in which Issa Rae would star, which was eventually titled Insecure. HBO picked up the pilot in early 2015 and it was subsequently greenlit, scheduled for a fall 2016 release. It was given a second season by HBO, debuting in July 2017.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae's New York Times best selling memoir hit the shelves February 2015. She chronicles her life through a series of humorous anecdotes. She opens up about her personal struggle with not fitting in, and not being considered black enough at times.
Rae's birth name, Jo-Issa, comes from a combination of the names of her grandmothers: Joyce and Isseu. Her middle name, Rae, is after an aunt, who was an artist.
Rae appeared on the cover of Essence magazine's May 2015 Game Changers issue, alongside Shonda Rhimes, Ava DuVernay, Debbie Allen, and Mara Brock Akil. Rae expressed her desire for more people of color working in production behind the scenes to make a lasting impact in the television industry.