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Issa Rae: How She Went From YouTube to HBO




“Influencer culture” has been an increasingly popular phrase that has dominated the social media landscape. Influencers across social media have become nearly inescapable as their fame continues to consume every aspect of popular culture. The power of social media has kindled the reality of creating overnight sensations through viral media presences. Content creators are constantly competing against one another, hoping to even taste the slightest bit of fame during their digital tenure. Being an influencer has become more accessible for those bold and confident enough to commit to an online lifestyle. TikTok and Instagram have entrenched themselves as influence-forward platforms that connect media figures with their followers. The definition of “influencer” remains to be accommodatingly flexible; anyone who receives exceptionally high attention on social media through a follower count that reaches an outstanding viewership can consider themselves to be an influencer. Makeup, fashion, lifestyle, and brand influencers paved the way for diversification in the industry and the inclusive potential for new content creators.

Issa Rae was an influencer whose hard work and dedication to her industry of choice paid off greatly. She reached the ultimate goal of being “discovered” and was able to watch her influence jump from the bounds of the internet to television and beyond, giving her an opportunity to elevate her reputation as a woman actively working in the entertainment industry. Her voice was granted an even more expansive platform that permitted her to continue creating fresh, new, and socially important content. While YouTube served its purpose as a platform that enabled Rae to step into the world of entertainment, it was a later partnership with HBO that contributed to her current-day stardom. Before she is heard as the voice of Spider-Woman in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Part 1

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or seen in multiple upcoming television projects, her time as an up-and-comer is enough to inspire any young creator pursuing their career as an influencer. Here’s how Rae went from YouTube to HBO.

In reflection of the adaptations made around influencer culture, the entertainment industry has adjusted to accommodate rising stars and how they are perceived from a contemporary point of view. The traditionalism of the entertainment industry — and who makes their way in — has undergone a transition to make room for a new era. Video and television streaming platforms have toppled the model of cable and struck down its exclusivity. In-person performance-based entertainment, or any event that is held face-to-face, falls under the pressure of instilling trust that science allows communities to gather together without fear once again. YouTube stars, such as Rae, have branched off from their initial channels and have found other influencing techniques to support their ongoing success. Business models that have faltered under the weight of the ongoing pandemic are asked to restabilize their approach to marketing new products. Rae’s lateral leap from video streaming outlet to streaming giant after Insecure was made available to stream on HBO Max respected the shift in how entertainment is interacted with. Connectivity is a valuable asset when merging the physical and digital worlds; Insecure knows well that it possesses the power of connecting with an audience just as its unofficial parent webseries did. The dedication to consistency between each title flatters the shift in how media is consumed and how creators welcome their artistic visions.

Related: Issa’s Exes from HBO’s Insecure, Ranked

Before she was an HBO hit-maker, Rae launched her career on YouTube through the series The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl. Between 25 episodes split between two seasons, Rae navigates through life’s most inelegant moments, while sharing her perspective as a Black woman. With the realism found in each scenario, touched with humor, The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl earned her the 2012 Short Award for Best Web Series. Inspiration first struck Rae after she had spent time as an employee at New York City’s New Federal Theater. After neglecting to act on the web series immediately, it was commentary on the underrepresentation of Black women in mainstream media that encouraged Rae to bring her vision to fruition fully.

“I wanted to tell the comedy of awkward situations, so it was just about creating a character who I thought could be relatable, but that wasn’t necessarily me,” Rae said in an interview with Daily Dot. “I say that J is 30 to 40 percent of me. If I hadn’t quit my job, I wouldn’t have done the Kickstarter [to fund The Mid-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl] so many things wouldn’t have happened,” Rae said. “It’s so hard to have a nine to five and try to be creative in the evening, or schedule everything on the weekends because you have to.”

Rae credits the theory of W.E.B. DuBois’ double consciousness as a factor that inspired her decision to include a monologue aspect in her work. The YouTube series magnified what Rae set out to convey when using her comedy to platform the importance of pressing social issues. “POC [people of color] are always having to think about how they are being perceived, making people feel comfortable while navigating their own insecurities,” she said when elaborating on the personal connection to her YouTube series. “[Y]ou’re always looking at yourself through the eyes of others and trying to pre-emptively understand what judgments and opinions they may be making about you. That’s something I find interesting and compelling, and that’s something that non-people of color can’t relate to.”