Even today, when I mention I write about web series, I get nonplussed looks and requests for examples. But there is one series I see friends consistently cheer and evangelize: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. “Have you seen it?!” I hear. “You have to see it!”
It’s quite a feat for the low-budget indie from creator and star Issa Rae. “I love this web space,” she said in an interview. “This is fertile land. We can take advantage of it in any way we want to at this point.”
Rae is already on the leading edge of a rapidly growing wave of black web producers, alongside the likes of Al Thompson (Johnny B. Homeless, Lenox Avenue, Odessa) and Robert Townsend (Diary of a Single Mom). Recently she’s been everywhere. Arianna Huffington name-dropped her series when introducing Huffington Post‘s BlackVoices – Rae wrote an inaugural piece. She’s been profiled in Essence, The Root, Madame Noire and Clutch. Her success caught the industry’s eye: now Rae is repped by UTA and 3Arts.
To top it off, Rae’s fans recently funded the rest of the show’s first season through a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. Rae asked for $30,000. She’s raised over $50,000 (and counting!) . It’s little mystery how she did it: the series’ Facebook page has over 11,000 fans, the campaign over 1,500 contributors.
Awkward Black Girl follows the story of J, played by Rae, as she tries to navigate uncomfortable personal and professional situations, from inappropriate coworkers to bizarre love triangles.
“I think my audience is just hungry for a new portrayal of them,” Rae said. “Black women especially in mainstream media just aren’t accurately represented. It’s just one of two roles: extremely dramatic ghetto girl or the sidekick or best friend that doesn’t get that much of a spotlight…I’m not sleeping with lots of men or dealing with multiple babies’ fathers. That’s just not the case. That’s not my life.”
Other series have showcased black female characters, of course, from Koldcast’s Celeste Bright to BET’s Buppies, among many, many others. What has distinguished Awkward Black Girl has been its focus on the mundane, situations both uniquely related to black women’s experiences but ultimately universal in their appeal.
“A lot of those situations are either thoughts that I’ve had with my interactions with people, or they’ve actually happened,” Rae said, citing as an example a popular moment in the series when the lead character’s boss — awkwardly — feels up J’s natural hair.
Rae’s production process is intense. The series shoots and publishes monthly. Rae started with several episodes written and has continued with the help of three other writers. Starting out with limited resources, she used what locations she had: the apartment is her’s, the office her father’s, many of the actors her friends. “It’s definitely been a struggle,” she said. But the new funds should help. Rae can now, for instance, hire an editor.
With the season finale already written and a few months in sight, Rae is thinking about the future. Right now she’s packaging the show to shop to networks, but is also keenly interested in keeping it on the web and maintaining creative control, following the lead of creators like Felicia Day. “Her story alone is just a huge inspiration,” she said of Day.
A network deal with the likes of HBO or Comedy Central would send a message about the marketability of intelligent comedies led by black women and open doors for other showrunners. “That would be amazing,” Rae said. “Whether it’s Awkward Black Girl or not…if this show can inspire the creation of that, that would be amazing.”
The web offers creative freedom and a closer connection to fans, yet a sponsor has yet to approach her. “If sponsors do come, then that would allow me to keep it on the web,” Rae said.
Fundamental to the show’s success have been the fans who have consistently supported it and the blogs, Shadow and Act chief among them, who have publicized it. Rae says ultimately the show is theirs.
“The support system was there,” Rae said of the series’ successful fundraising. “People just marketed it as a movement — on their own.”