Issa Rae represents a generation of storytellers who used the internet to cultivate their craft in service of community. Starting her career on social media, Rae created, wrote, produced, and distributed stories responding directly to fans on platforms. She learned to listen to what her community wanted and created original narratives to meet their needs. Unlike previous generations of storytellers who learned to sell shows to executives before they reached the audience, Rae’s superpower is her keen understanding of Black community and culture, which is foundational to American culture.
Before her HBO hit Insecure, Rae was best known for her web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, an incisive, hilarious portrayal of a young Black woman who challenged the stereotype that all Black people are effortlessly cool and unbothered. Rae tapped into her love of hip hop and sitcoms by women writer-actors to give the YouTube audience a series Hollywood never dared to try. Her fans have since followed her from YouTube to HBO and cinemas around the world, drawn to her authenticity and unapologetic embrace of Black love and community.
Few people know all the work it took to get to where she is now. Awkward Black Girl was not her first series for the web, Insecure not the first series she developed for television, and somehow in that time she also managed to write a very funny, smart book. It took a tremendous amount of tenacity to build the foundation for her empire. Rae’s YouTube channel not only housed her series but also projects from other Black creators, sharing the wealth of her fame to support other creators whose stories Hollywood was afraid to greenlight. She then produced a series of half-hour TV pilots through Color Creative, which eventually became a management company for diverse writers. Through her production company, Hoorae, Rae has produced everything from podcasts to short and long-form reality series, and through her record label, Raedio, she spotlights emerging music artists. Through it all, Rae has stayed committed to supporting where she came from, highlighting South LA in her series and starting Hilltop Coffee & Kitchen for the community.
Most know Rae for her work onscreen. We tend to value who we see more than the people who work behind-the-scenes, but what makes Issa Rae a trailblazer is far more than her acting. Her legacy shows us how people who have been historically excluded from culture have always done the unglamorous work of building platforms to lift others. If more people followed her lead, we’d all be much better for it. For this, Issa Rae receives the Peabody Trailblazer Award.