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On Issa Rae's Recent Success And Why You Should Be Inspired...

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act October 2, 2012 at 11:48AM

Yesterday's news that Issa Rae (the Awkward Black Girl herself) had paired up with Shonda Rhimes and sold I Hate L.A. Dudes to ABC, is exactly the kind of news I've been wanting to read, and always love to read!
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Issa Rae

Yesterday's news that Issa Rae (the Awkward Black Girl herself) had paired up with Shonda Rhimes and sold I Hate L.A. Dudes to ABC, is exactly the kind of news I've been wanting to read, and always love to read!

And if you're a content creator with similar goals, hopes and dreams of your own, this should excite and inspire you.

What a lot of you may not know is that Issa Rae was one of the earliest contributors to Shadow & Act. There - the cat's out of the bag. There were 6 of us initially, each running our own separate black cinema blogs, back in 2008/2009; and eventually, we all thought it would be a good idea to combine our efforts into a single web space, since we were all reaching the same audience - although, with different voices.

And Shadow & Act was born in April 2009.

There was even a podcast, which included all of us from time to time, in round-table fashion.

Obviously, Issa Rae moved on, likely because she was more interested in creating content, than writing about content, or writing about creators of content.

That was in 2009; skip ahead to early 2011, February, some 2 years later, when I logged into my Facebook account as I did daily, scrolled down my feed (before all the horrible changes Facebook made), and I saw this post from Issa Rae - a YouTube file she shared for something with a title that read: Ep 1 | ABG | The Misadventures of AWKWARD Black Girl.

Curious, I clicked the play button, and within seconds, there she was, in a car, spitting out some obscenely hilarious rap lyrics, while driving down some unknown LA street. This wasn't the Issa Rae that I knew - although I didn't know her that well. But from what I did know of her, I wouldn't have expected this. So it was a surprise, although a pleasant, extremely amusing one. I remember thinking just how courageous she was for doing this.

At the time, I had no idea what she had in store; if this was just some one-time fun thing that she'd done, and that would be it; or if there it was part of some grand plan.

There was really no pre-release marketing, no hype to get audiences excited for the series that was to come. She just posted this *thing* that she'd created, on Facebook, and then several sites (including S&A, Clutch and others) picked it up instantaneously, you folks immediately loved it (based on the comments), it soon went viral, accompanied by lots of conversation around it - all of which (and then some) encouraged Issa Rae to produce and release a second episode.

I recall posting a comment on her Facebook page before the second episode was released, saying that the pressure was then on, given how well episode 1 had performed; expectations would be really high for episode 2.

But she was already fully aware that fact!

A month later came episode 2; and then episode 3 after another month; episode 4 after another month, and so on, and so forth, winning countless new fans with every new installment.

And then came July 2011, 5 months after the first episode debuted, when Issa Rae launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $30,000 to shoot the remaining episodes of season one of the web series. The month-long campaign ended up raising almost double that figure - over $56,000; and if it wasn't already clear before then that there was an excitement for ABG, the immense success of this Kickstarter campaign should've quelled any doubts.

Then came more episodes, more press, more awareness, more fans, signing with UTA, meeting Donald Glover, a college tour, expansion of the brand (like guest-starring in episodes of Black & Sexy TV's The Number, and teaming with them to produce RoomieLoverFriends), the Lena Dunham Girls debate and why ABG deserved a similar shot on the small screen (although that was maybe mostly an S&A conversation), the Pharrell connection and his I Am Other YouTube channel which likely led to even further exposure, RATCHETPIECE Theatre, and finally, some 10 million (minimum) total views later, yesterday's news that she'd be taking I Hate L.A. Dudes to ABC, courtesy of one Shonda Rhimes - only one of the most powerful showrunners on network TV right now, with a few critically and commercially-acclaimed series already to her name.

Naturally, we hope I Hate L.A. Dudes will be a notable addition to her growing library of work.

But as I started this entry saying, if you're a content creator, diligently working towards your own similar objectives, this news really should excite you!

Considering the relatively short length of time all of this happened for Issa Rae, we could say that it all transpired practically almost overnight! Many toil away for decades before they get an opportunity like this; some never even make it this far. Yet, here she is; she had an idea, and utilizing affordable and accessible production, distribution and exhibition technologies, she's made the kinds of career leaps that may not have been possible as recently as 15 to 20 years ago.

And this is just the beginning of what could be a really long, interesting, roller-coaster ride for her.

Granted, nothing's guaranteed; Just because she's scored this sell with ABC via Shonda Rhimes, doesn't necessarily mean she's assured career prosperity and longevity, especially in this cutthroat business. Scripts still have to be written, pilots still have to be shot, audiences still have to be attracted, etc (for example, you'll recall the report we posted about a week ago, which stated that only 32% of new network TV series actually get renewed for second seasons).

It's a rough, tough, competitive business (emphasis on business), as many of you already know very well.

BUT, at least she has her foot in the door, which is more than most of us can claim; and even if this doesn't work out for her (not to jinx Issa Rae), she's already built a significant enough audience via the web that gives her some leverage, which she could find a way to monetize independently. After all, content delivery via the web is supposed to be the new frontier.

Think of the way Tyler Perry got started; and this was years before the web became what it is today. He cultivated and accumulated an audience with his stage road shows - an audience that just couldn't be ignored as he negotiated his transition to the big screen; an audience that has remained fervently loyal to him.

I can see a similar kind of healthy rabid relationship between Issa Rae and her fans. The widespread, deafening cheers you've heard since yesterday's announcement, all excited about the news (just read our post announcing the deal, check Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Issa Rae's voicemail, IM, email and texts), should tell you something.

And, again, it should also inspire you! Will everyone attract Shonda Rhimes' attention and sell an idea to a major TV network? Of course not! But you won't know unless you make the effort.

Besides, her path certainly isn't the ONLY one; there are countless other roads to whatever you consider glory.

Some recent examples - the kind of action I love seeing (blacks established in the business, in positions to assist in the forward progress of up-and-comers, doing just that) include Chris Rock's bringing W. Kamau Bell's act to the FX network, as well as YouTube star Deshawn Raw (whose journey is somewhat similar to Issa Rae's) to Comedy Central - both with their own individual series (the former is already on the air, and was renewed; the latter is on its way).

As the saying goes, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. So be prepared; and look out for opportunities.

All this to say, YOU my friends can do it too, as clichéd as that might sound!

The production, distribution, and exhibition processes have all been democratized. The tools are available to almost anyone who wants them.

It starts with an idea, and then taking that first step towards realizing it, ignoring all the detractors and naysayers; so get to work!

Everywhere right now, seeds are being planted; don't get left out of the harvest that will come.

Carpe diem!


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