Stephen Winter is an award-winning filmmaker who has worked with Steve Harvey, Lee Daniels, John Cameron Mitchell, Xan Cassavetes, John Krokidas and David France. He produced Jonathan Caouette’s landmark “narci-cinema” documentary Tarnation (A.O. Scott, New York Times). Stephen’s 2015 film Jason and Shirley, which he wrote and directed, was called “one of the year’s finest” by Richard Brody in The New Yorker. (Photo by shean.)
I am deep in my feelings so I’ll start with some spoken word (apologies to all poets):
everytime i go turn on the TV i anticipate that i’ll see her.
she doesn’t have a name
because she is all the names. she’s no one that i’ve ever met on TV cuz she’s every girl and lady and sister and mother I’ve ever had. sometimes i think she’s a russet skin with short black spiky hair and skinny with a tiny belly that doesn’t obscure the area on the sides of her torso where her ab muscles overlap her hip bones, sometimes she’s Black Orpheus, voluptuous with Chaka Khan lips and wild pony hair, but in truth she could look like anysister and be anylady, everywoman, everytime. But doing her thing on TV, almost never time
i look for her when i sit outside the corner bodega drinking my morning coffee on the weekends. i keep thinking she’s on the periphery of my vision when i repack my away bag for another trip upstate to teach the ivy league children cinema studies, outside my apartment on West Indian Pride Parade day, brown girls sauntering outside the brownstones that shadow our street. so many people – especially girls – live golden in these New York ratholes that i might be laying my head three floors below her and tho we share our dreams we never meet in these waking moments – on TV. i am lucky enough to know her in all my guises and all my walks of life – my sisters, my friends, my girls, my ladies, my mothers, my nanas, the black women I love. Doesn’t feel right to say “my” in relation to the black women in my life, cuz really I am theirs. But ya never see them on TV, not really. Things have def gotten much better, we got Cookie! We got everybody Regina King plays. We got a lot of things in the last 10 years or so …
but not this other black girl I know, that I have admired and emulated, sought after and searched for
are you looking for me?
will you know me when you see me?
She has arrived. Her name is Issa Rae and her HBO show is called Insecure, the triumphant result of many years’ development after her hit YouTube series Awkward Black Girl. She is beautiful and genius and she is the first black woman to anchor a show on HBO. Think about that and weep. But then think about this – she’s here. And she’s completely destroyed the game.
Insecure has a cadence and incandescence, for it is a show with black people talking to each other in the way we talk when white folks aren’t around. And that is special. It is unique. It rarely happens. I love it. Here I must apologize for I only saw the first episode of Insecure about a week ago, and I’ve only seen it once. So I cannot parse with detail all the finery that was that show except that it was everything you can ask for and so much more. It blew my hair back and gave me life. And fever. And glory. Great comic performances centered around an adorably dysfunctional romantic heroine? Aw hells yeah. Script? Flawless. Dialogue, drama, comedy and unique turn-of-phrase are in full effect. Editing and cinematography? So on point – beautiful browns, sexy violets (Prince would have lived for this show) and midnight blue driving-in-Los Angeles nighttime realness. Youth, smarts and vitality? Check!
Issa plays a version of herself – a smart black chick who isn’t hood, isn’t hippie, isn’t Beyoncé (maybe more Solange!), but yet – oh yes – she is still somehow all those things and so much more. She’s black girl magic in all its wonderful ordinariness. Issa’s best friend is Molly (Yvonne Orji, stunning with a quip and a hair toss), and they live a fast-paced, expressive, hectic and fluid social and business life that is as hard-earned as it is so easily embodied by the performers. These women are urgent, uproarious and ready! They worry about each other, they goad each other on, they groove to hip-hop, take desperate chances, act both selfish and selfless, wonder about marriage and boyfriends and look in the mirror at their glorious black selves and they … enjoy themselves!
How revolutionary is that?
Even though their black girl insecurities is what the show’s plot is hooked on, and their specific pains are palatable and real, it’s the quest for happiness that guides this ship. Understand that old saying, “When a white man has a cold, the black man has pneumonia,” well, if that’s true (and it is!) then what does the black woman have? You can ask Melissa Harris Perry, Roxane Gay or bell hooks for some answers to that. And now you can ask Issa Rae. Insecure owes as much to I Love Lucy and His Girl Friday as it does to Almodóvar’s All About My Mother, Spike Lee’s genius, underrated Crooklyn and even goddamned Notting Hill. To say it’s required viewing is like saying you need to stay hydrated in hot weather. Too darn’d obvious. The show is beautiful. I’m in love. Watching black people represented poorly on TV since I was a boychild in the 1970s has made me a hard man with a gentle heart. I’ve been ’buked and I’ve been scorned, so Insecure has redeemed me. I have to find a friend with HBO quick so I can get into the whole season without trouble.
Issa, I can’t eat since you’ve been gone. Since you, everything on TV tastes bland like peanut skin and the threads on the underside of a banana peel and pop tarts and celery. But I still eat anyway. Lots of TV food. Filler food. French fries (Fear the Walking Dead). Little Debbies (Chicago Med). Fish stick TV dinners (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) but all I get is full. Insecure gives me life. Issa – Visionary, salute! To all TV execs: More like this, please.