HBO’s Insecure: loosely based on life

14 August 2017

HBO’s Insecure: loosely based on life

When YouTube star and aspiring television director Issa Rae started her comedy online videos The Mis-Adventures of an Awkward Black Girl (2011-2013), she didn’t think that they’d go viral. But they did!

And that gave her the platform to develop Insecure (2016-current), an HBO comedy centred on Issa’s confused, all-over-the-place 20-something-year-old character Issa Dee. The series protagonist tells her tale in third person as she struggles to juggle her job, social life and relationship with her boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis).

“It is loosely based on my life and experiences,” says Issa the show creator. “I wanted to create something that shows that black people are relatable to the world and that we experience the same things that everyone else does.”

And just like the majority of society, Issa the character is bottling up anger from all corners of her world. From stagnating in dating to figuring out who she is in the world, Issa’s fighting to keep her head above water.

“People think that at 20, you should have your life together. It’s not always the case and while you might be doing adult stuff like paying bills and living on your own, it’s hard and the show touches on that,” adds Issa Rae.

Real-life stuff

While Issa’s character plays a big part in telling the ordinary black woman’s narrative, the show also zooms in on Issa’s lawyer bestie Molly (Yvonne Orji). Unlike Issa, Molly thinks that she has her life under control: she works with hot-shot attorneys who put the bad guys behind bars and she doesn’t have to answer to a live-in boyfriend.

“It’s a huge compliment when ordinary people take these characters personally. Seeing people emotionally invested in the show is great,” explains Issa. And like the viewers, Molly and Issa relate to each other as the characters are willing to risk everything that they’ve worked hard for in order to find their “one true love”. Plus, they’re struggling to be themselves at their male-dominated jobs.

Although Issa and Molly are always there to comfort each other during their rocky times, their advice to each other doesn’t always solve their issues. Issa adds that “it’s not about twists and turns. It’s about ordinary people and how they deal with their problems”.

Learning curve

The two besties self-destruct, have petty fights with each other and end up getting in their own heads about their relationships. But that thankfully brings about some therapy for Issa: she raps to herself in the mirror, ordering herself to have better thoughts.

“Rapping and singing is her way to get the frustration out,” reveals Issa Rae. “I don’t rap in real life but it is a way for my character to get things off her chest out loud.”

With every episode, Issa and Molly face and fix their pasts before moving forward – and that includes things like getting over their exes and building on their self-confidence. The series is inspired by comedy Girlfriends (2000-2008), which followed a group of African-American women trying to grow in different careers, their love lives and their communities. Issa Rae adds that “Girlfriends definitely paved a way for our show. It was amazing!”

Awkward moments to look out for

  • In episode 2, Issa moves out of her shared apartment with Lawrence after he forgets her birthday. Out searching for her, Lawrence spots Issa buying throw-away undies at a low-budget pharmacy – guess that means she’s not planning to move out of Molly’s guest room anytime soon…
  • In episode 4, Molly’s called into her boss’s office for a chat. Apparently her “ghetto” behaviour has annoyed a newcomer who’s complained to HR.
  • And in episode 6, Issa has flashbacks of hooking up with her ex while she’s in bed with Lawrence. She’s surely not going to call him “Daniel”, is she?

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