I’ve been glued to Issa Rae since The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl. I was in the early years of college or maybe late years of high school, I don’t really remember now. I do remember being glued to my computer screen thinking, “Oh shit! She knows my life!”. I loved everything about Issa, her style, her awkwardness, her confidence, her work. The joy I felt at watching not only that series, but the appearance of a whole YouTube Channel eclipsed anything else that I might have wanted to watch. My friends and I would call each other up or message each other post episode drop, “Oh snap girl, she finally gave White J some!” and we would launch into laughter and recalling of our own lives, sighing in relief that we finally were feeling and being seen. It wasn’t just a dream. There was nothing to wake up from.
When Insecure was finally announced on HBO, I remember doing a happy dance in my bedroom. I had moved on from being a semi-awkward Theater & Africana student to a semi-confident Education Intern at one of the best theater companies in the US and yet still felt like so many things were missing. I was one of the very few people of color in most spaces, including my living space and I was hungry. I oftentimes found myself in situations with either queer men of color who could and would shut me down and desire my silence or with white women who wanted to empathize but not actually do any work required for change. These people all wanted change to happen at a comfortable pace for them, but I needed to see and speak with people in the entertainment world who looked like me and who were visibly making change. I needed to know that it was possible, that all of it was possible. I didn’t have to choose between being an actor and writer. I didn’t have to only put down director or producer on my resume. But at the same time, I didn’t have a black theater/film fairy godmother to guide me along. So I looked to Issa. Issa always got me through. The first episode of Insecure, Season 1 found me hunched in front of my computer screen yet again, and having finished an entire bottle of wine, I don’t remember much, but I do remember screaming “TAKE THAT LENA DUNHAM!” and then falling off to sleep. As Season 1 rolled into Season 2, I continued to watch, joy filling me at the fact that the 20s are just messed up and I’m just normal and that black people look gorgeous in all shades, sizes, sexual positions and hilarious anecdotes.
But still, in all of that visibility and glorious blackness, messiness and realness something was always missing for me. I’m Black, Womxn, Queer, Pansexual and Polyamorous and I want to make work that highlights the art, realness, and humanness of the spaces that I find myself in. Most often, the shows and web series that I find center either white women or drama. The L Word, was the first show that I watched that featured queer women. I remember sitting in front of the computer in college thanks to Netflix and binge watching The L Word. Although it made me feel invisible because of my blackness, it made me feel seen because of my queerness. I’m not saying that the world of queer womxn of color isn’t dramatic, cuz it certainly can be at times, but people don’t need to be murdered for a following to build. So then, what’s the point?
The point is that visibility is possible in all it’s variables. We already know that POC make money. No one wants to see all white anything anymore unless it’s the Bordelons dressed in all white on Queen Sugar (Cuz that was black people magic on all levels). But the thing about production that bothers me is the who. No matter what, are we always engineered by white men because they are the ones with the bank? Literally. How many Oprah’s and OWN Networks are there? Right now? Oprah. That’s it. She’s got it. But even in that, there’s a closed door. I love Oprah, but Oprah isn’t queer, poly or foregoing the idea that GOD isn’t the end all be all for the black community. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up going to church, but at this point in my life, I choose to believe that there’s a lil bit of truth in everything but that doesn’t mean that I have to subscribe to it. So what’s next?
I’ve made it my mission to center varying art forms alongside black, womxn, and queer. I know that’s what I want to see. So why not make it? It’s hard. My biggest obstacle so far is capitalism. I need a team. I want a team. I want to work with artists who are just as hungry as I am. But most of the time, that means money and at 20 something, who has money? But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Right? If that’s my only obstacle, then I’m doin pretty damn well. I also want to highlight theater.
I don’t work loudly. I work mostly in silence. You don’t see that I’m doing work until the work is done. So often, my friends and I sit and dream and plan for our future world where there’s artist housing that’s cheap, studios to work in that houses various forms of art and a collective of beautiful people that just get us. Isn’t that the dream? As good as all this visibility and dreaming feels, how good will it feel when we finally get further along in our process? Maybe that’s the whole point. That it’s never ending and each moment is in fact a process to be savored. I used to say, “I’m the next Oprah”. Now, I simply say that I’m the best version of me, day to day, I’m working towards elevation and building and creation and art.
Thank you Issa for pushing me to be better. Thank you for being visible. I may never meet you and you may never read this, but know anyway, you’ve helped more than one black womxn to find her purpose, just by being you.
Damali Speaks Xx
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