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Insecure isn’t here to tell you what’s “on fleek”

“Black women aren’t bitter, we’re just tired of being asked to settle for less.”

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Issa Rae as Issa Dee
Issa Rae as Issa Dee
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Insecure

Insecure as Fuck

Season 1 , Episode 1

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Out of all the web series making their TV debut this year, I was the most excited for Awkward Black Girl’s transition to HBO’s Insecure. Awkward Black Girl succeeded at combining the most personal moments of being a black woman with humor. Yet there was always something a bit imperfect and, well, awkward about the narrative. In its pilot, Insecure stays true to the moments that made Awkward Black Girl great, but presents a polished, well-crafted episode that shows Issa Rae’s growth as a writer and actress. “Insecure as Fuck” also puts to rest any concerns that the move to HBO would take the focus of the show off of black female experiences. Insecure is black as hell, funny as hell and feels like the black female friendship-centered show we’ve been waiting for.

Insecure’s pilot focuses on disappointment. On Issa’s birthday, she wonders if her relationship is actually what she wants and deserves. Her best friend Molly is tired of dating and being told that she needs to settle for less. This is a common thread throughout the episode––not only are black women expected to settle for less; they should be accustomed to it. When Issa addresses a group of students in the opening scene, they assume she’s single because she doesn’t attempt to fit mainstream beauty norms. She has a short, natural afro and her outfit is more aligned with Echo Park hipsters than urban chicness. One girl shares her dad’s remark, “Ain’t nobody checking for bitter ass black women anymore.” Insecure knows exactly what narrative audiences assume they’re going to see when they tune into a show focused on black women and it’s asking us not to settle for that anymore.

While there have been plenty of great shows that deal with black female friendship––there’s even a reference to Girlfriends as Molly and Issa reconcile––they’ve never had the freedom to explore black femininity as well as Insecure can. As a multi-camera sitcom, Girlfriends had to work within a traditional format that required the show to break down their black female leads into four rigid stereotypes. The same is true of Living Single. Yet Molly and Issa represent the complicated space in between the bitter, ghetto, sexual, and comical stereotypes that haunt black female representations on TV. Instead of laying out exactly what that means for unfamiliar audiences, Insecure jumps right in and doesn’t waste time deciphering code or defending its blackness. “Why you talk like a white girl?” asks one of Issa’s students. She doesn’t even address the question; she doesn’t have to. Insecure is female blackness in all its Drake-loving, college-educated, broken pussy-rapping forms.

Yvonne Orji as Molly

Molly is a wonderful representation of these dualities. She knows how to switch––white people love her, black people love her. She can easily move between her law office and Inglewood; switching between loud, brashness with Issa and hushed tones in her mostly white office. While she can manage this balance in her career life, she hasn’t met anyone she can really be herself around. Men assume she either wants to rush into a relationship or she’s just a good time. Molly’s dating problems aren’t just due to her personal issues, but also a society that tells black women they don’t deserve complete acceptance and love. She’s told her standards are too high, yet it seems like she just wants someone who’s achieved what she has in life. Her only real support is Issa, who has problems of her own.

As Issa tries on different lipsticks to go out, it’s like she’s trying on traditional black female stereotypes. It doesn’t just represent the attitude she’ll have for the night, but plays with the audience’s expectations of the type of black woman they assume they’ll see on TV. She settles on a clear lip balm, a statement that says she’s bringing her most authentic self to the proceedings. Issa is a complicated, imperfect character. She kisses another man, but doesn’t have the nerve to actually break up with her boyfriend. She’s inconsiderate of Molly’s feelings and is passive-aggressive towards her coworkers. Yet you still root for her and when her dalliance with Daniel doesn’t pan out, it’s clear that her relationship with Molly is more important to the series than any of the male leads.

Rita

While Issa also has relationship issues, the show uses her job to explore the issues she faces as the lone black woman at a non-profit. She’s not given the support or platform to effectively put her voice to work and is seen as the token black person in the office. She’s there because it makes her white coworkers feel legitimate as they ponder what James Baldwin would say is most beneficial for people of color (“in 2016?” asks Issa). A work scene where Issa’s partner Rita breaks down the issues affecting the students they work with turns into a droning list of the usual stereotypes and statistics black women hear levied against us. When Issa makes a point about valuing the students as individuals, she’s still undermined when she’s partnered with Rita to bring her project to life.

Insecure is an exploration of black womanhood that pays tribute to past performances while elevating its possibilities to a level TV hasn’t seen before. This first episode has already created an interesting world that quickly develops its characters. In its pilot, Insecure is anything but awkward.

Stray observations

  • I’ll be covering Insecure this season! I’ve been waiting on this project for a long time and I can’t wait to check in every week.
  • I like that they changed Awkward Black Girl’s dream sequences and voiceovers to mirror rap sequences.
  • The show’s focus on Molly and Issa is wonderful. It’s interesting that Lawrence and Daniel are left to stereotypes––Lawrence is unmotivated and constantly “working on his business plan” while Daniel is the hot (very hot) music producer type.
  • This episode covers a lot about interracial dating, but Molly’s coworker’s dejected, “Jamal said I was his first” was an amazing line.
  • I love seeing realistic portrayals of black women on TV and that includes nighttime wraps. Molly’s big ass wrap was gorgeous.
  • “Every black girl that went to college likes Drake.” - I’m pretty sure this is true and the whiny Drake-like rapper at the Open Mic was great.
  • I always love hearing the Girlfriends theme song.
  • “What does ‘on fleek’ mean?”
  • “Bitch, I know you did not just respond to that motherfucking text message.”
  • While “Broken Pussy” isn’t available for download yet, the rest of the music in tonight’s episode is available on Spotify. Insecure will be making the music to each episode available via playlist. You definitely need to follow them.