HBO’s Issa Rae: ‘No one can tell the stories you can tell’

HBO actress and executive producer Issa Rae participated in a Q&A with students and staff after a screening of her upcoming show, “Insecure” on Sept. 26.

By Campus Reporter

During a discussion she held with Columbia students Sept. 26, HBO actress and producer Issa Rae shared what she said was the best advice she received about working in the television industry.

“Never believe your own hype,” Rae said. “I’m always very happy and grateful for any response that’s positive, but I’m always thinking to the next project and realizing that the industry changes in a minute. You can be hot in a second and then nothing the next. That’s what’s always inspired me to keep moving and always have something else on the back burner.”

Rae visited Columbia’s Ferguson Hall in the Alexandroff Campus Center, 600 S. Michigan Ave., for an early screening of her upcoming HBO comedy series, “Insecure,” and to speak with students about her experience working in the television industry.

“Insecure,” set to premiere Oct. 9, stars Issa Rae as herself and follows her and her best friend through their personal and professional experiences.

Claudette Roper, an adjunct professor in the Television Department, invited the actress and producer to the college after Rae expressed interest in attending one of Roper’s “Culture, Race and Media” courses.

Roper said she previously knew of Rae’s work and was a fan of Rae’s web series, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.”

“I found her work to be fascinating and inspiring and a template for a lot of young people to follow,” Roper said.

Rae encouraged student attendees to collaborate with each other to widen their skill set.

“Work with each other,” Rae said. “It’s easy to give yourself excuses when you’re being resistant to your dream and finding an excuse not to do it so learn as much as you can and work with great people because they’re all in this audience.”

Nicole Hoffman, production coordinator in the Television Department, said the discussion was great because students could relate to Rae’s experiences figuring out how to create and promote her work in order to be successful.

Nikki King, a senior cinema art + science major, said she was not familiar with Rae’s work before the screening but thought the episode was entertaining and authentic.

“She’s very talented, creative [and] funny,” King said. “Listening to her talk about her experience, I really feel inspired.”

Rae also spoke about staying true to herself, which was inspiring for King. She spoke about the time she pitched a show to ABC during her first television writing experience. She explained that being too eager to please caused the loss of authenticity, as well as the show not being picked up by the network.

“It was a huge learning experience because I felt like it was my one big chance, and I don’t think I used my voice well enough,” Rae said. “For me, that led to a product that wasn’t entirely me. By the time I turned it in, it was just a generic script that had no voice. I was devastated. I was like “The door closed, I blew my one chance.” I felt like I disappointed them.”

King said Rae’s experience inspired her.

“Just keep going forward and follow your dreams,” King said. “Keep working for what you want.”

Rae also encouraged students to have confidence in their work.

“No one can tell the stories you can tell,” Rae said. “No one else has the point of view that you have, no one else has your voice, no one else is you, and that’s your most valuable attribute.”