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How Issa Rae Went From Awkward Black Girl To Indie TV Producer

Her ColorCreative.tv is using the Internet to help diverse writers circumvent the traditional pilot process.

How Issa Rae Went From Awkward Black Girl To Indie TV Producer
“I started Color Creative to give opportunities to talented women and writers of color,” says the 29-year-old Los Angeles native, Issa Rae [Photo: courtesy of Issa Rae]

Writer, producer, director and actress Issa Rae may identify with the titular character in her wildly successful webseries The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl, but she’s not letting a little awkwardness stop her from using her considerable talents and massive following–her YouTube content has a combined 25 million+ views–to bring new voices to the public. Her latest venture, ColorCreative.tv, develops and produces video projects by writers who are historically underrepresented in this space, providing a built-in platform and audience to propel them to television success by circumventing the traditional pilot process.

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“I started Color Creative to give opportunities to talented women and writers of color,” says the 29-year-old Los Angeles native. “I get tired of hearing that we don’t appeal to a ‘broad audience,’ whatever that means. We’re providing opportunities and showcasing stories that aren’t being told anywhere else.” Rae dreamed up the initiative in August 2013 while reading a script from a new writer that struck her as a better fit for television than the web. “We’re an independent television network disrupting traditional models to make them more inclusive.” Though she started out on the web, producing her first digital series, Dorm Diaries in 2007, Rae eventually set her sights on network TV. In 2013, she developed a show with Shonda Rhimes (creator of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy), which was ultimately not picked up.

“Having gone through the pilot process with networks, I realize how formulaic and long it can be; and through that process, a new writer’s voice can get buried in notes. Not only that, but the pilot process can be super inefficient, millions of dollars spent on concepts that may never see the light of day,” Rae says. “So, with some networks deciding to do away with the ancient process in general, I’ve created a content startup that produces low-budget pilots written by writers who are either women or minorities, showcases them to an audience, and hand delivers them to broadcast, cable and Internet networks. The hope is to get audiences excited about the great content that they’re not seeing on television.”

So far, so good. Rae has already brought four full series to her online network under the Color Creative banner: Roomieloverfriends, which examines the lives of roommates with benefits; How Men Become Dogs, about men who decide they don’t want to be nice guys anymore; First, which chronicles a new couple’s milestones; and Hard Times, the story of a personal trainer who moonlights as a stripper. And fans are watching them–Rae racks up 3,000 new subscribers and more than 3 million minutes of viewing time each month. And she premiered three new well-received comedy pilotsBleach, Words With Girls and So Jaded–at last week’s Urbanworld Film Festival.

But Rae’s no stranger to success. Her “Awkward Black Girl” won a 2012 Shorty Award for Best Web Show, she has been named to Forbes’s “30 Under 30” list two years in a row, has collaborated with Pharrell Williams, secured a book deal with Simon & Schuster, and is currently developing, Non-Prophet, a half-hour comedy for HBO with Larry Wilmore (who will take over Stephen Colbert’s time slot when he decamps for The Late Show).

Up next, comedy takes a backseat as she develops six more series. “Cycle one of Color Creative was focused on comedies. Cycle two will tackle dramas written by amazing writers of color,” says Rae. “We’ll be focused on turning these pilots into series one way or another. I want this initiative to change the landscape of television for the better.”

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About the author

Kenrya Rankin Naasel is an award-winning author and journalist whose whose work has appeared in more than a dozen national publications and been translated into 21 languages. She writes about innovative people, products and processes for FastCompany.com.

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