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Issa Rae On Why It Was Important to Explore Black and Latino ‘Tensions’ On ‘Insecure’

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Issa Rae said “Insecure” was influenced by the current political climate.
(Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

The second season of “Insecure” wrapped in September but that doesn’t mean creator and star Issa Rae has stopped talking about it. And there’s plenty to discuss. The former YouTube star has not shied away from exploring contentious topics. From the tensions between Black and Latino Los Angeles residents to the influence of politics, Rae knew no bounds this season.

“I knew that even in conversations with [showrunner] Prentice Penny that I wanted to touch on the Black and Latino dynamic in Los Angeles,” she told AdWeek for its “Young Influentials” issue. “When I moved back to L.A. as a child and then later growing up through the school system, there’s just a clear tension. And it’s never really addressed in a casual way.”

While running the afterschool program, “We Got Y’all,” Issa and her co-worker, Frieda, who is white, struggle to fill spaces for Black and Latino high school students. They face some pushback from the Black principal, who exhibits prejudice against Latino students. While Black students take to the program, Latino kids are noticeably absent.

“The reactions have been interesting because … I saw someone write [that] Frieda is the white woman who wants you to do something about racism as opposed to doing something herself,” Rae said, noting the timing felt right due to President Donald Trump’s rhetoric. “I think her way is getting Issa to do something about it. It’s just like, ‘Why don’t you speak up?’ In her mind, she’s like, ‘It would mean more coming from you, and I don’t know the best way to do it.’ Even starting that conversation has been really interesting to witness. It’s also been interesting to witness people who gloss over it all who are just like, ‘[Issa’s] going to do what she has to do. What is she supposed to do?’ So I love that you kind of get a lens into people’s personalities just by their reactions to certain parts of the show.”

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Trump’s presidency has also influenced the show in other ways — including some that couldn’t be included.

“I think it’s definitely made me a bit more on my heels and conscious about even certain jokes that I’m putting out there,” Rae said. “You know, my dad is Muslim. We had a Muslim joke in the first episode and [director Melina Matsoukas] after seeing it was like, ‘This is kind of offensive just given the climate.’ I didn’t think anything of it at the time and then realized like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I don’t want to perpetuate anything this man is touting.’ Given my affiliation with Islam or not … I just don’t want to bring [that out]. So in that sense, it’s made me think about the images and even the specific mindset that I’m projecting.”

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Issa Rae struggled with YouTube show “Awkward Black Girl” before launching “Insecure.” (Chris Loupos for Adweek)

However, one thing that’s regularly included are romps in bed — or elsewhere. Rae and her co-stars Yvonne Orji (Molly) and Jay Ellis (Lawrence) unabashedly get it on throughout the series, but Rae was forced to address some controversy over the apparent lack of condom usage this season.

Rae admitted she was confused about the conversation happening on her Twitter feed at first, but later, she understood why fans were so riled up.

“Then [I] realized [after] reading the reactions that it’s a compliment because people feel so invested in these characters that they see themselves in these characters,” she said. “Their minds are like, ‘If I was going to do a ho phase, I would wear a condom’ And two — just as a storyteller, if that was taking people out of the story, then I just felt compelled to address it. I don’t want you —  all the work that we put into creating a scene, the dialogue, everything — to take you out of it and you’re like, ‘Where are the condoms?’ And you miss something that we said. It just felt important. It’s not a big deal to address it and knowing that there are more sex scenes to come, I don’t want the conversation to continue without saying something. Yes, we’ll do better. That’s all we can do.”

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