Issa Rae beautifully graces a colorful cover in the latest issue of Paper magazine. The actress, writer and producer is interviewed by her dear friend and acclaimed actress Tracee Ellis Ross, and the story is wonderfully introduced by music and pop culture journalist Bianca Gracie. The two powerful businesswomen share a thoughtful conversation about Issa’s journey, industry woes and changes of the guard, and what Issa actually thinks of Black History Month.
After Issa Rae thanked Ross for being an inspiration and an initial supporter of her web series, Awkward Black Girl, Tracee’s first question, “What did you want to be when you grow up?” was playfully answered by Rae.
“To your question, I wanted to be a dinosaur and a writer when I grew up. I remember that distinctly.”
The conversation continued with Issa Rae shedding light on how it felt to finally put herself out there when writing the Awkward Black Girl series, which became the catalyst for her future endeavors in HBO’s, Insecure, and her upcoming HBO Max series, Rap Sh*t.
“And so I put myself out there and it just felt different. It was a story that felt so specific to me, it was specifically my sense of humor and there was no one else to hide behind. This is my project and I would be blamed if it turned out shitty. I was scared as hell,” Rae tells Ross.
Tracee Ellis Ross asks Issa about having friends along on the journey to share in these monumental moments in her career. Rae shares why having friends outside of the industry is “incredibly Important” to her.
“It’s incredibly important for me too to have a space outside of the industry, because as you know people will define your success by what you were able to accomplish. That seems insane to me. I never want to feel like this industry defines who I am, and also what I create, you know?”
Ross introduces the topic of gatekeeping, and she is discusses how the film and television industries decide what stories are worth selling.
“There’s still a sense of gatekeeping: deciding which stories are sellable. We keep building other tables but there’s still a center. As Black women, historically we have not had a stake in what we make. The first year I was nominated for an Emmy after all those years since a Black woman had been nominated in that category, I remember thinking: “But Black women are the leaders of our lives.”
The ‘Black-Ish’ actress and director also acknowledges the late Cicely Tyson for her efforts in uplifting the voices of Black women and Black people in entertainment.
“You look at Cicely Tyson. She had this platform. And she knew that she was going to use it, to do what she could, and that was to give voice to the dignity and humanity of our Blackness. Black women, Black people. She was a giant in the space she created.”
Issa Rae offers a unique perspective to continue with Tracee’s thought, “it’s also beautiful to see that the people she ultimately inspired and opened the door were the first ones to remember her, to uplift her, to hire her again. The longevity of her career is the result of the doors that she opened.”
Rae shares insight on how her path of creating a web series and gaining traction on YouTube worked at that time, but would not necessarily encourage the same method in 2021 when there are other social mediums to take advantage of such as, TikTok.
The “I’m rooting for everybody Black” moment that occurred on the 2017 Emmy Awards red carpet was just one of many times Rae outwardly expressed her love for her Blackness in advocating for her community.
When Ross asked about her thoughts on Black History Month she shared these sentiments, “When I think about Black History Month I think about the forced, ‘Okay, now it’s your time, let’s hear about your history, good for you, Black people.’ If you’re going to celebrate Black history, celebrate Black people all year long. And understand that it’s also your history. But I don’t feel particularly moved by Black History Month.”
The two share in a lightning round of questions at the end where Issa shares her top artists and songs at the moment including, Giveon, Jazmine Sullivan, and Yung Baby Tate’s viral single “I Am.”
Read the full interview on Paper magazine featuring photography by Zamar Velez and styling by Jason Rembert.