"For me, that moment was the motivation I needed to keep doing what I was doing," the actress said of an executive misunderstanding her show

By Robyn Merrett and Ashley Boucher
September 20, 2020 09:27 PM
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Issa Rae is recalling the hurdles it took to become a Hollywood success.

Looking back at her first-ever Hollywood pitch, the Insecure creator and Emmy nominee said that the "unofficial" encounter gave her motivation to keep "doing what I was doing."

"My first Hollywood pitch was kind of unofficial," Rae, 35, shared. "Basically, I had this web series. It was the third web series I had ever made. The executive was like, 'Yes, I saw your show. Funny stuff… Funny stuff.' And I was like, 'Um, thank you.'"

"He was like, 'Yeah, it’s about this Black woman and her Black-woman problems. Hilarious,'" Rae recalled. "And I was like, 'That’s not what it’s about. But okay.'"

"He was like, 'Yeah, but you know, the Black audience, they want to see familiar faces. So, you might need to switch up the characters.' And, mind you, he’s this executive that’s not Black telling me what Black people like. And it just became very clear to me that he didn’t get the show. And I remember just fuming in that meeting like, 'Why does he get to tell me what gets to be on TV? Why does he get to tell me what people like me like to see? I’m here! I’m telling you what I want to see. I made it.'"

Issa Rae
ABC

"For me, that moment was the motivation I needed to keep doing what I was doing," the actress said. "To kind of bet on myself. And that fueled me. Like, 'Oh, okay. I’ll show you.' And, you know, one of us got fired after that."

Insecure was nominated for outstanding comedy series, and Rae earned a nomination for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series. Yvonne Orji, who stars alongside Rae in the HBO show, also earned a nomination for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series.

Rae's comments were made during a segment highlighting Black excellence — a tribute that comes as the entertainment industry is making strides in recognizing people of color, with a record number of Black actors receiving Emmy Award nominations this year.

Issa Rae and Yvonne Orji in Insecure
HBO

After the nominees were revealedVariety reported that 34.3 percent of the acting nominees are Black. There are a total of 102 acting nominees across the categories.

Sterling K. Brown received a nomination for outstanding lead actor in a drama series for This Is Us, as well as a nomination for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Zendaya was recognized for her groundbreaking role as Rue Bennett in Euphoria, receiving a nomination for outstanding lead actress in a drama series — her first-ever Emmy nomination.

Newcomer Jeremy Pope was nominated for outstanding lead actor in a limited series or a movie for Netflix's Hollywood, which was created by Ryan Murphy. Pope, 28, starred as the fictional Black and openly gay screenwriter Archie Coleman.

"Thank you to the Television Academy, my entire Hollywood family, and to Ryan Murphy for giving me my television debut. My heart is full. I'm proud to see so many Black artists nominated this year. It gives me hope that systemic change in our entertainment industry is not only possible, it's imminent," Pope said of his nomination.

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Unfortunately, there was only one Latinx actor acknowledged this year (Alexis Bledel for The Handmaid's Tale), prompting some, like John Leguizamo, to boycott the Emmys.

The acknowledgment of Black talent follows Hollywood's historical exclusion of people of color.

Back in February, Joaquin Phoenix used his BAFTA win to address the controversy surrounding the ceremony's all-white acting nominees.

“I think that we send a very clear message to people of color that you’re not welcome here. I think that’s the message we’re sending to the people who have contributed so much to our medium and our industry and in ways that we benefit from," he said.

Black actors were also almost completely left out of the nominations for the 2020 Oscars, with only Cynthia Erivo picking up an acting nomination for Harriet. Other snubbed potential nominees included Eddie Murphy for Netflix’s Dolemite Is My Name and Jamie Foxx for Just Mercy.

Asian-Americans were also largely shut out of the ceremony, with only South Korea’s Parasite picking up six nominations.

#OscarsSoWhite first began trending in 2015 after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences came under fire for failing to nominate any actors of color for the second year in a row. Well-known Hollywood black stars like Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith skipped the 88th annual awards in response.

The Academy has since made strides to diversify its voting body, inviting a record 683 new members the following year.

Catch People (the TV show!) Monday through Friday. Check your local listings for exact times or stream the show every day at 7 p.m. ET/ 4 p.m. PT at People.com and PeopleTV.com.

The 72nd EmmyAwards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, are airing live on ABC from 8-11 p.m. ET.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.

• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.