What Black Women Loved About Insecure: 'I Felt Seen From The Very First Episode'

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  • Issa Rae
    Issa Rae
    American actress and writer
Issa Rae in Insecure (Photo: HBO)
Issa Rae in Insecure (Photo: HBO)

Insecure has given catharsis to those of us who want to watch people like us on TV without feeling that it is diluted,” says Danielle Koku, a 23-year-old writer from London. “There’s no ‘black best friend’ character on the show, because everyone is Black.”

In 2011, Issa Rae created Awkward Black Girl, a web series that follows the awkward encounters of a Black girl called “J”.

This in itself was already revolutionary, because TV rarely depicts Black women as awkward. We’re either angry, hyper-sexualised or fiercely independent. Eventually, the show got picked up by HBO and in 2016, Insecure was born.

The show follows best friends Issa (Issa Rae) and Molly (Yvonne Orji) navigate life in their twenties. Across five seasons, it’s grown into a huge TV phenomenon. From Insecure watch parties to deciphering whether you’re #teamlawerence or #teamnathan (I’m the former), Insecure was no longer just a TV show, it was an experience.

Which is why the news of the show ending left many of us heartbroken. And why we’re so excited about the new, behind-the-scenes documentary, Insecure: The End.

It’s difficult for me to pin-point one of my favourite moments of the show as there’s been so many. But an episode that stands out is season four, episode five. Issa launched her festival called ‘Block Party’ where she championed Black creatives such as poets, artists and musicians. We watched Issa struggle to find her feet in her career in most of the show, so it was heart-warming to see her do something she enjoyed that also lifted up the community.

Another treasured part of the show was the finale of season two. This episode saw Issa imaging her future with her then-ex Lawerence. It was a montage of what their future would look like together. As a member of #teamlawerence, I teared up because you could tell she still loved him. The scene also gets bonus points from me as it featured one of my favourite songs (Blessed by Daniel Ceaser). Insecure does a brilliant job of mixing Black art with Black music.

Five years with a TV show is a long time and it felt like we grew up with Issa, so many of us can remember where we were when Insecure started. I was in my last year of university, stressing out about my dissertation. Insecure definitely became one of my favourite escapisms and something I’d bond over with my housemates.

Danielle Bayard Jackson, who is a women’s friendship coach and author, was 29, newly engaged, and had just left her job as a teacher when Insecure first came out. Baryard, now 34, says: “So much of the show was about finding your way, and I had just made two major life decisions (getting married, leaving my job). I remember feeling seen from the very first episode.”

Black female friendship isn’t something we often see on TV and Insecure managed to accurately highlight the highs and lows of it. We see Issa and Molly support and love each other, but also watch some of the more uncomfortable parts of their friendship, like in season four, where Molly gets into a new relationship and seems to let her friendship with Issa take a back seat. But in season five, we watch them reconnect and work at their friendship – and it resonated with viewers.

“The moment I saw Issa and Molly together on camera, I teared up,” Bayard says. “Before that moment, I’d never seen two beautiful, dark-skinned friends portrayed in their element: laughing with abandon, having hard conversations, and asking tough questions.”

(Photo: Vladimir Vladimirov via Getty Images)
(Photo: Vladimir Vladimirov via Getty Images)

Writer Danielle Koku didn’t watch the show for a few years, because the adverts seemed “super American and distant”. But after seeing a few Youtubers discussing the show, it caught her attention.

“Awkward Black Girl was my first interaction with Issa, followed by Insecure. I think by the time I reached university I was ready to watch Insecure because at that point in my life I had no choice but to relate to the chaotic, young and winging it themes,” she says.

There’s so much to say about why Insecure is adored, but one of the most enjoyable parts of the show is the nuance of the characters. TV shows often portray your 20s as being the best time of your life, but Insecure shows how messy they can often be. Molly – who has a flourishing career as a corporate lawyer – struggles with her love life. While Issa –who is a long-term relationship at the start of the show – doesn’t enjoy her job and is confused about her work-life.

This is what Koku enjoyed most about the show. “For anyone who is 21 or older and figuring their life out, it feels comforting,” she says. “It’s like yes, I don’t have a plan and nothing is perfect but it’s going to be okay.”

For 23-year old Nasyah, who is a programmes officer from London, the authenticity of the characters is what made the show game-changing.

“I really felt like I knew them and I was so invested in their stories and was rooting for them even during the messiest times and celebrating during super duper joyful moments,” says Nasyah, who chose not to share her surname.

“The characters felt whole in the sense that they weren’t limited to tropes or singular identifiers. We got to see them work through their problems, progress, regress, reflect, and progress again. I don’t think that happens on TV in general, especially not on Black TV shows.”

Insecure also brought the community together. After every episode you knew there was going to be a huge conversation on and offline. As Baryard says: “The show prompted discussions on everything from dating someone with a mental illness to forgiveness, to friendship break-ups. It certainly prompted a lot of meaningful conversations between me and my friends.

“On Twitter, at the lunch table, and on various podcasts― it was hard to go anywhere without people wanting to dissect what had happened and share their thoughts on the questions Issa Rae put on the table.”

Issa and Molly revolutionised the way Black, female friendship is shown on screen.  (Photo: HBO)
Issa and Molly revolutionised the way Black, female friendship is shown on screen. (Photo: HBO)

Even if you’re physically watching Insecure by yourself, you know you have a community of people to discuss the show with.

Chi-chi Nnanna-Dikeocha, a 23-year old working in public relations, loves this aspect of the show. ”My best friend and I have been discussing Insecure together since it came out. We always message each other to see where we are in the series, and talk about recent episodes,” she says. “We actually planned to meet up, chill and discuss the season finale!”

The impact that Insecure has had on the Black culture is limitless. It has allowed us to see ourselves the way we want to see ourselves. Bayard believes this is because it was “not developed to appease the ‘white gaze’”.

“There were jokes and references that viewers only understood if they shared a certain experience, and the writers made it a point to not stop and have the characters explain it,” she adds.

Koku adds that it’s refreshing to see the struggles of social mobility experienced by young professionals accurately depicted on screen. “In Insecure they’ll show you everything; what it means to be the first in your family to do something, managing family’s expectations, advocating for yourself in the workplace...”

Off-screen, Insecure has shown Black creatives that it’s possible to achieve success without diluting your Blackness. There are so many doors that need to be opened for Black people in the TV industry, but Issa managed to open her own and give other Black people a key.

It’s been really heartwarming seeing the way the cast and crew of Insecure light up when they talk about it (the show),” says Nnanna-Dikeocha. ”They genuinely loved working on the show and formed meaningful relationships with each other.”

It’s sad that the show is coming to an end, but this means we can make room for other Black storytellers. Nasyah says she’d like to see more TV shows written and produced by Black people. ”Insecure did amazingly both on and off screen – they proved that the talent exists and when given the platform and freedom, it’s able to grow and shift cultures.”

Nnanna-Dikeocha echos this by saying Black writers don’t get the same opportunities and backing as their white counterparts. “My hope for Black representation in TV is that there’s a more diverse range of stories being platformed,” she adds. “Whether it’s an adventure series or romance, I hope that we’d be able to turn on the television and see ourselves in anything.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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