Issa Rae on 'Opening the Door' for Black Creatives in Hollywood and How HBO Can 'Do Better'
By Liz Calvario
Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images for WarnerMedia
Issa Rae is all about helping and elevating Black creatives in Hollywood. The Insecure creator and star has normalized Black lives onscreen with her HBO show and other projects -- and it's something she prides herself on.
"For me, my longevity will be opening the door for others," Rae, 35, tells The Hollywood Reporter in a new interview published Wednesday, adding that it also means leaving a legacy with her work. "Still being here. Denzel-ness. Alfre Woodard-ness. I mean, Denzel is a good model because he belongs to Black people and has never denied who he is and his roots."
"The stuff that he’s done underground to help young Black actors, to create a pipeline for them. He’s also been a producer and a director and is just so revered and has a Blackass family," she expresses. "I got to go to his AFI tribute, and I was just reminded, 'Man, this man has meant so much to me, my mom, my aunt, my grandmother, and that matters to me.' There’s a legacy there."
"I’ve definitely demanded," Rae says of being in a position to ask for more money. "Yvonne [Orji] joked before the Emmy nominations came out, 'Girl, I told all my agents, 'Don’t make no deals until after Tuesday or Monday,' whenever the announcements were, because our price is going up or down.' So there is something to that, too, of just realizing your worth."
"Seeing how little these white people care about asking for more than they’re worth in many cases. You can’t be polite, or tiptoe, or be modest about those things," she continues. "You’re seeing these nine-, 10-figure deals out there. I have a great team that also is not afraid to ask for beyond my worth. I have an amazing Black lawyer who is constantly being like, 'No, I’m going to get you better.' Or, 'No, I’m going to make sure. I heard that so-and-so made this, you’re about to make this.'"
Rae, meanwhile, says she's been fortunate enough while working with HBO to have control over Insecure's narrative, now that it's headed into its fifth season. Earlier this month, it was announced that she would be executive producing an HBO docuseries about Black television, Seen & Heard, through her production company, Issa Rae Productions. She's also working on the HBO Max series Rap Sh*t, about female lyricists, among many other projects.
The actress is all about bringing opportunities to other Black people, but also touched on how HBO, and other companies, can do better in having the executive room reflect the way the world really is.
"There’s no question that some of the input that we would get would be different. I’m also really happy that there aren’t a lot of executives on our show," she explains. "Part of the intimacy is that we have two people, where at a network, you have two people here, three people here, two people there, and it’s just so many voices. Can HBO improve in terms of their hiring practices? A thousand percent. They got to."