Issa Rae covers the June 2020 issue of Cosmopolitan and it’s Ira Madison III who interviews her so everyone else better come correct with their June magazine offerings because how are you going to top this?
Issa is currently promoting … well… SO much. Insecure Season 4 is currently in progress – and we’ll come back to that in a minute. She stars in a new film, Lovebirds, with Kumail Nanjiani that was supposed to premiere at SXSW and then hit theatres in April but, you know, that couldn’t happen so instead it’ll be on Netflix on May 22. But over and above all that, Issa has ambitions. And Issa is not afraid to declare them. Or, maybe, she is afraid, but she’s declaring them anyway. They’re the biggest ambitions: Issa wants to leave a legacy. As she tells Ira:
“It almost just feels like I fooled people. Ha, ha, you put me on a magazine cover.” Also, in an industry that wasn’t built for black creatives to have long-term success, she worries how long her “window” will last. “The blessing is like, Okay, I can for sure make my own opportunities, and that’s fun,” she explains. “But I also want to be able to…I want to deserve to be here, and that’s part of what keeps me up at night.”
At first, when I read this, I thought this was imposter syndrome talking. It’s common among women, and women of colour – even when we’re successful, we question whether or not we really earned it. But that was a stupid assumption on my part and let me be the first to acknowledge how insulting it was that I underestimated her. I’m sorry. It’s not that Issa doesn’t think she deserves to be here, it’s that she ‘s aiming a lot higher than here:
“She’s talking about legacy. “I want to be a pop culture staple—a black pop culture staple,” she says. “I want to have an impact on my community. Everything I’ve done has been for—and in thinking of—black people, and I don’t take this moment lightly. I want to do right by us, at the end of the day.”
She’s still not sure what exactly that kind of success would entail. Or if she’s even the person everyone else wants to be doing right by them (she is). “It’s presumptuous because, like, nobody’s counting on me,” Issa says, finishing her thought with a laugh. “Nobody’s like, ‘She got to do it!’” (We are.)”
This is putting your hand up and saying “I’ll be The One”. And, more important, “I CAN BE THE ONE”. Then, on top of that, knowing that it’s not just an empty statement designed to the get fists pumping and the glory but rather a statement about the work required to be The One; The One who will have an impact on her community; the one who wants to do right by her people. What makes this courageous is that it’s often scarier to live up to your potential, you know?
But Issa has shown us over and over again, and in such a short time, that she’s capable. You can see it in every episode of Insecure, which, if you’re not watching it, WHY NOT? What Issa is doing on Insecure is what DB Weiss and David Benioff thought they were doing but ultimately couldn’t on Game of Thrones. The best example of this came two episodes ago in “Lowkey Thankful”. It’s a Thanksgiving episode and Issa ends up going out for dinner with her brother. And Lawrence comes up in conversation.
F-ck Lawrence, is what I’ve been saying for at least a season because I haven’t wanted to spend any more time on anyone but Issa. But, again, Issa keeps schooling me because Lawrence stayed around for a reason – not for Lawrence’s sake but so that we could better understand Issa. Because now that Lawrence is heading into another serious relationship, and seems better suited to be in one, Issa over dinner is telling her brother what she’s struggling with: not that she wants to be with Lawrence again necessarily, but that she’s the one who put in five years of work getting Lawrence to this place …but she doesn’t get to enjoy the results.
Haven’t you been there? Or haven’t you known someone who’s been there? That is SO good and SO true about so many of us who have stayed in relationships or who are f-cked up after relationships because of that lost investment. But Issa couldn’t have told the story without laying that track, as Shonda Rhimes would say. She’s been building to that moment since Insecure Season 1, giving her characters time to grow and grow apart and grow closer again. That one scene was a HUGE f-cking payoff of at least 20 episodes. And it happened so deftly, so subtly, the satisfaction of it doesn’t hit you until later because you almost don’t see it in the moment. This how you give the audience what they need, and not what they want. This is what makes Issa Rae The One.
To read Issa’s full interview with Ira Madison III, head to Cosmopolitan. Trailer for Lovebirds is below.