“The Help” is a box office hit, but don’t expect to spot filmmaker Issa Rae among the theater crowds. To her, the controversial film is another example of the cliché-driven, stereotypical characters Hollywood has created for black women, and she’s not in any rush to see it.
“I share the view of a lot of people in that I’m tired of these types of movies, these ‘white-people-save-the-day’ type stories,” Rae said in a phone interview. “No thank you.”
A Los Angeles native, who spent part of her childhood in Potomac, Md., Rae has challenged that lack of relatable Hollywood roles with her own Web series, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl..”
“I just always found it disheartening to not be able to relate to people of color on television or even on film,” Rae said, noting that, growing up, she yearned for coming-of-age stories that she could relate to as a black woman. Few fit the mold. In a phone interview, she could only think of one: Spike Lee’s “Crooklyn.”
Instead of waiting for Hollywood to introduce a character to which she could relate, Rae created her own — “J,” a self-proclaimed “awkward black girl” who finds herself in hilariously cringe-worthy social situations. She toyed around with the character for more than two years before creating the series on YouTube.
The idea of black filmmakers using the Web to create story lines and characters not generally seen isn’t new — The Post wrote about it in 2009 when BET began promoting a Web series called “Buppies” (that’s black yuppies), starring Tatyana Ali of “Fresh Prince” fame.
However, unlike “Buppies,” which had network support, “Awkward Black Girl” has been promoted almost exclusively by Rae through social media. Rae posted the first episode to her own Facebook page back in February and the show now boasts a Facebook following of more than 14,000 fans. On Twitter, @awkwardblkgrl is followed by more than 6,000 users.
Rae recently raised over $50,000 through online crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, allowing the filmmaker to promise at least five more episodes. Meanwhile fans of the show have taken to Facebook and Twitter to proclaim themselves “awkward” and celebrate the show’s grassroots success.
Unlike typical Hollywood roles, J does not fill a typical black sidekick role. J, played by Rae herself, is the star of the show, playing a girl who stumbles and blunders her way through life. Anyone who has fretted over how to make the rounds at a party can relate to the crazy situations in which J finds herself. Race, and the sometimes uncomfortable situations it can cause, does play a part in the show. But the plot lines often transcend it. In one episode, J agonizes over how many times she should greet a coworker she sees repeatedly in the same hallway. In another, she’s sent to anger management because she freaks out over a missing office stapler. Fair warning, the series contains some choice language.
According to the show’s Twitter account, more than 20,000 viewers tuned in to the show’s seventh episode, which debuted earlier this month. The next episode, which Rae says will focus on J’s budding love triangle, will hit the Web on Sept. 8. If you can’t wait to get your “Awkward” fix you can watch previous episodes here.