After five seasons, “Insecure” leaves behind a lasting legacy – KION546

By Leah Asmelash, CNN

Over the past five years, many Sunday fears have been repelled by one thing: “Insecure. “

HBO’s hit show, chronicling the life of Issa Dee, played by star and creator Issa Rae, and her friends has become something of a TV phenomenon. For hours on Sunday night as the show unfolds, Twitter is full of shots and reactions to the plot, jokes, and outfits. The next day, websites are buzzing with recaps – everyone from podcasters to your favorite newsgroup picking out the events of the episode, and even Michelle Obama is following the shenanigans. (HBO and CNN are both part of WarnerMedia.)

And the fanbase is notoriously dedicated. Actor Jay Ellis, who plays Lawrence, Issa’s polarizing love interest, told Essence in 2018 that fans cursed him, chased him, and physically punched him during the events of the series. .

In the saturated world of television and streaming, “Insecure” has cut the noise, transcending levels of cultural sensationalism. And Sunday – after five seasons – the show will end.

What made “Insecure” so special

At its core, “Insecure” is about a bunch of black millennials trying to figure out what life is like – their love life, their friendships, their careers, things that any young adult can relate to. The beauty of the show is, in part, its banality. They are ordinary people, who take care of ordinary things.

“We feel like we’re watching our friends,” said writer Luvvie Ajayi Jones, who has written recaps of the show since it debuted in 2016.

Of course, “Insecure” is not the first of its kind. “Julia,” a 1968 NBC sitcom, is notable for being the first show to center a black woman in a well-rounded role, and around the same time shows like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” took off. focused on the life of a single woman trying to work on her career. Although not a sitcom, “Insecure” – at its center of a group of friends of black women – is one such lineage, said Naeemah Clark, professor of film and television arts. at Elon University.

But what made “Insecure” so interesting, Clark said, is that it shows the deeper, more holistic connections between black women. Rae and the team behind the show are quick to show off how Molly (played by Yvonne Orji) felt used in her White law firm, or how Issa felt symbolized and disillusioned at work.

“There’s this understanding of knowledge and support that you don’t necessarily get from white friends. No matter how ‘awake’ white friends are, it’s other black women and women of color who understand this navigation, ”Clark explained. “And I think ‘Insecure’ did it really well. It was based on the same structure and tropes of the shows from the ’60s,’ 70s, and ’80s, but there is that element of the world today. , where the black woman is culturally situated.

These moments are interspersed throughout the series’ five seasons. When Lawrence is arrested by a police officer. When the Issa district becomes more and more bourgeois. When Molly finds out that her white male colleagues earn more than she does.

“Issa said at one point in the writers ‘room,’ When you are white, racism is a period. Like, “This is wrong, it has to stop, period.” But when you’re black, it’s a comma, ”“ Insecure ”showrunner Prentice Penny told the New York Times at the start of season five. “It’s like this racist thing happened to me, but I still have to pay bills, I still have to drive and come home and see my kids. Yes, this thing happened, but how are you going to deal with it? “

This is what “Insecure” has shown so well.

“With ‘Insecure’ there is something in the everyday and the moments of worldliness and the parts of people’s lives that don’t necessarily arouse a sense of spectacle, which can be related to the audience,” said Francesca Sobande, digital speaker. media at Cardiff University.

Shows like “Living Single” in the 1990s and “Girlfriends” in the early 2000s also played in this space – depicting the lives of a group of black friends. With “Insecure,” however, its platform on HBO offered the possibility of a different, more nuanced dive, Clark said.

“Issa Rae isn’t afraid to call a thing a thing, and I think that’s what makes the show watchable,” she explained. “A lot of it is looking at yourself, asking yourself, ‘Who am I, what mistakes have I made? Issa is not a perfect character.

“Insecure” honestly displays this imperfection. In a Season 2 episode, Issa and a colleague attend a predominantly Hispanic school to help tutor the children, but soon realize that the school’s black principal is racist against Hispanic students and does that emphasize their service to other black children. First, Issa dismisses his colleague’s concerns about their participation in this discrimination.

“Sometimes there’s a bias in the African American community as well, and it highlights that (in this episode),” Clark said. “And you very rarely see this.”

Other episodes have shown the effects of undiagnosed bipolar disorder on relationships, which Clark said is hardly ever shown on TV, especially with the black characters. It is this mapping of the unexplored that distinguishes “Insecure” from its predecessors.

But it’s also, frankly, the quality of the show: the lights, the writing, the outfits, the soundtrack (Solange Knowles acted as musical advisor). All of this made “Insecure” a joy. You wanted to lose yourself in this southern LA world, with its shades of blue and gold to hip-hop beats. Who wouldn’t?

The digital phenomenon of “Insecure”

You can’t talk about the art of “Insecure” without also talking about the importance of black digital culture. Every Sunday, the cast members tweeted and reacted to the episode with fans – a culture of live tweeting in salons around the world that had previously grown to prominence with “Scandal,” another show run by a black woman. For black people on Twitter, or just online in general, “Insecure” has become a must-attend event. Whether anyone watched the show or not, many committed to it, even if only by using Natasha Rothwell’s ‘growth’ GIF.

Prior to “Insecure”, Rae rose to fame in 2011 for her web series “The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl”, in which she starred. It is this program which gave him the bases to create “Insecure”. It’s important, says Sobande.

She broke it down like this: It’s rare that shows that feature a dark-skinned black woman like Rae are created in the first place. On top of that, the mainstream media tends to overlook web series and these non-traditional avenues of art and content creation.

Everything “Insecure” – from its roots in Rae’s first web series to her current social media prowess – is a testament to the rise and engagement of black digital culture, Sobande said. And that relationship to black digital culture is a key part of the series’ legacy.

“It’s like the show is in conversation with the audience,” Sobande said.

Sometimes this conversation is quite literal: Aside from the live tweet, costume designer Shiona Turini posts where certain outfits come from after each broadcast.

And for those who have watched Rae from his “Mis-Adventures” web series, there is also a sense of nostalgia, seeing how Rae and the media landscape have changed since then. For many of the cast, their characters in “Insecure” were one of their first major TV roles, and the team members were involved in other ways as well. Stars Rothwell and Ellis, for example, made their directorial debuts on the series, as did cinematographer Ava Berkofsky.

“For me, it has been amazing to witness the journey of the series and its creators,” said Sobande. “It’s as exciting to see this film unfold as it is to commit to the series itself.”

What “Insecure” leaves behind

Then there’s the timing of the show, and not just because it aired at a time when social media usage is at an all time high. (Without social media, “Insecure” might have been a very different show, Sobande noted.)

The show’s very first episode aired in October 2016, at the height of the presidential election in the United States. About a month later, in the middle of his first season, President Donald Trump would be elected.

“It was a tough time for people of color, who were feeling, ‘Oh my God, we’re in the next four years, there’s an administration that doesn’t care about us. Worse yet, it actually creates problems for us, ”Clark said.

A TV show doesn’t change policies or politics, but “Insecure” has always presented the black experience as a valuable experience, Clark said. And get lost in the smoother storylines – who should date whom, etc. – was a nice distraction. This reprieve is also part of the legacy of the series.

“It was like a little hug on Sunday,” she said.

In his Season 1 recap, Ajayi Jones predicted that the success of “Insecure” would open doors for others. Looking back now, she says she was right. Because of its success, other shows are filming black people more flatteringly than ever, she said, and it has debunked the idea that people don’t watch black stories.

“I think ‘Insecure’ made other people step up their game,” said Ajayi Jones. “I don’t think we’ll know the true depth of the ‘Insecure’ impact for a while.”

Yet part of this impact is already noticeable. Ajayi Jones cited Amazon Prime’s “Harlem” as an example – a show that features a similar premise to “Insecure,” while being based in New York City. Although not a comedy, Clark used Michaela Coel’s “I May Destroy You” as another example of a black woman describing an authentic story, much like “Insecure.”

Rae’s impact runs deeper, however. Her journey has shown everyone, but especially young women of color, that they can create art and still be true to themselves, Clark said.

“(Rae) knew who she was. And she knew what she was going to be able to do, and she stuck to it,” Clark said. “I think that way it changed the rules of the game. , it showed content creators that there isn’t just one way to be. “

Yet the success of a show like “Insecure” doesn’t necessarily mean the media landscape is suddenly democratized, Sobande said. Previous issues that may have blocked a show like “Insecure” still exist. Still, the work of Rae and everyone behind “Insecure” can still serve as inspiration, she said.

From a web series to an Emmy nominated hit on HBO, here’s how Rae and the “Insecure” team have come. When it ends on December 26, it will be a sad day for many fans – the nostalgia that many have and will have for the show is strong, Sobande said.

The promise of “Insecure” means there’s more to come: from Rae, who signed an estimated $ 40 million deal with WarnerMedia, and young creators following his wave. “Insecure” may be over, but its legacy – its ripples – lives on.

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