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“Why you talk like a white girl?”
As one of the first lines in the pilot for Issa Rae’s Insecure, such a blunt question tells you everything you need to know about the series. To a good portion of the audience, it sounds like a humorous moment of ignorance in an awkward scene in which inner-city middle school students ask Issa Rae’s character deeply personal questions. But to another segment of the audience—to the “black nerds” and the “awkward black girls” like Issa Rae—it’s a line that could be considered more “funny because it’s true.” It’s a question that outright suggests that talking in an “educated” or “articulate” manner is considered “white.” And for that same segment of the audience, it’s as universal as stories of white people trying to touch black people’s hair or even just the “twice as good” speech that Shonda Rhimes brought to the forefront (for the unaware) on network television.
The brainchild of The Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl creator/star, Issa Rae, and guiding hand Larry Wilmore (The Nightly Show), Insecure tells the story of Issa Dee, a newly-turned 29-year-old woman who decides that now is the time for her to stop playing around. She and her best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji) have seemingly perfect TV lives, but underneath the sunny surface, both want more. Issa makes a difference working as a youth liaison at a non-profit in South Los Angeles, but she's still the "token" black girl at work. Molly is a stunning lawyer touted as “the Will Smith of corporate,” but every eligible man she meets just so happens to not be “looking for a relationship.” Issa is similarly unhappy in her longterm relationship. It’s a simple, relatable premise that just so happens to be created by and star a black woman.
Where Girls’ first season became infamous—and inescapably dissectible—due to Lena Dunham’s “a voice of a generation” discussion in its pilot, Insecure’s mission statement is far less self-aggrandizing and much more focused. Issa and Molly simply want to have a voice of their own and be heard. No more, no less. The series’ tagline makes it clear that Issa’s (and by extension, Molly) “trying hard AF,” and that’s what the show is about, whether it’s “trying hard AF” to be heard at work, in relationships, or even in society as a whole. This is a show about two black female friends in a predominantly black setting, after all; as realistic as that is as a whole, that’s not the easiest thing to get on television screens.
“What does it mean when you don’t fit into this definition of being black?,” Issa Rae asked at the Television Critics Association press tour, brushing off the stigmatizing perception that there is a “universal way to be black.” With Girls or even Comedy Central’s Broad City (which actually has more in common with Insecure, while also still being completely different), there isn’t presumed to be a universal way to be white—what Insecure hopes to achieve is the same consideration for other races. And Issa Rae, Larry Wilmore, and showrunner Prentice Penny have provided the series with all the tools to reach that goal. Not everyone can relate to the somewhat homogenous world of Hannah Horvath and her friends in Girls, but that hasn’t slowed the show down; so even if not everyone can relate to the concept of being the “only one” in the room or having a discussion about why black men seemingly “wife others up with the quickness,” that shouldn’t hinder Insecure either. With the current flock of serious yet “very black” television shows like FX’s Atlanta and Netflix’s Marvel’s Luke Cage, prestige television is finally accepting that a show can heavily feature black faces without being discounted as "just a black show.” These are simply just shows—and good ones at that.
So while Insecure takes place in South Los Angeles and features a predominantly black cast (with Lisa Joyce shining as the lone white series regular), Issa Rae also explained at the TCA press tour how the series “is not a hood story.” It’s instead “about regular people living life.” Insecure’s first season may be taking place from a part of the “black experience,” but it’s telling relatable stories. It’s telling stories about second-guessing oneself with “what if” scenarios about a fantasy romantic partner. Stories about being too qualified for certain jobs but being underqualified for the job you want. Being able to prove your worth in your profession while only being seen as part of a quota. Living in the moment and knowing when living in the moment is just selfish. Making bad decisions and dealing with the consequences of that. Insecure is simply placing these familiar stories in the context of a world that is unfamiliar to the television landscape and often unexplored outside of talking about the negative aspects of the location (which was a large part of the terrific, but tonally different Southland).
Plus, for all of Insecure’s depth, it’s not afraid to be stupid, which is sometimes the realest thing you can be, no matter your race. Insecure makes a point of showing that Issa isn’t perfect, as she finds herself in plenty of awkward moments and making lots of mistakes while being the “bold” new version of herself. That's all just part of Insecure keeping it real, and you certainly don't have to be black to understand that.