The creators and star of the hit web series Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl Tracy Oliver and Issa Rae were at the Bright Family Screening Room February 14 to screen their show and to discuss their careers, filmmaking on the web, and the portrayal of black women in contemporary media. Multicultural Student Affairs with E.B.O.N.I., and the Department of Visual and Media Arts sponsored the event as part of African American Heritage Month 2012.
The two women showed the first seven episodes of Misadventures, which follow the trials and tribulations of J (played by Rae), the “awkward black girl” who toils through post-graduate life at a dead-end job while struggling to overcome her social awkwardness in her romantic and other relationships.
Afterwards, both women told the audience that after meeting at Stanford they made it their mission to write and produce their own content in hopes of creating roles for themselves that they felt they’d missed out on in high school and college. “I went to Stanford with the idea of being an actress…but the roles I was offered either didn’t show [up] or I hated them,” said Oliver. Following graduation, she pursued screenwriting and ended up selling a feature, Marriage is for White People, while Rae began work on several web series.
The pair also described their inspiration for creating the Misadventures series. “I’ve always been one to enjoy shows like The Office, Curb [Your Enthusiasm], and Seinfeld,” said Rae. “I’ve always been able to appreciate that kind of humor, but you don’t see people of color represented in those kinds of shows.” This realization led Rae to create Misadventures.
The women chose to make the show a completely web-based series, they said, because that has allowed them to retain creative control throughout its first and second seasons. (The second season is slated to premiere on the web later this year.) They have turned down offers from several networks that wanted to pick up the show but intended to change the perspective and originality of Misadventures. Rae and Oliver said they are determined to forge their own path into the television world — when they’re ready.
Rae said she is a big believer in the potential of web programming. “Now is the best time to create our own content. There are no gatekeepers,” she said. The positive audience reaction to Misadventures, the number of YouTube plays of the series, and the enormous support she’s gotten in her Kickstarter online fundraising campaign for the show help demonstrate her point.
The Misadventures screening was part of The Bright Lights screening program, which screens films and other content free to students and the public every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm in the Bright Family Screening Room.