Issa Rae Doesn't Want to Be Hollywood's 'Tokenized Person' for Diversity Hiring Practices

Issa Rae attends the world premiere of “The Photograph” World on February 11, 2020, in New York City.
Issa Rae attends the world premiere of “The Photograph” World on February 11, 2020, in New York City.
Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images (Getty Images)

In Hollywood, one of the most notable things to have come out of the pandemic (other than a severe pivot from how film and television sets used to function) is a conversation about the industry’s “reckoning” on how it has treated the Black creators who work within it.

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On the surface, Hollywood gatekeepers are being more diligent about trying to improve upon its hiring practices (and this includes both onscreen and behind-the-scenes), but is it all talk? Is it only because it’s the cool thing to do right now? We certainly have every right to be cynical, even if there is a little hope thrown in there, too.

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So, if you’re a Black person with any influence in the industry (whether you’re a prominent Black actor, Black writer, Black director, or a member of the press at a prominent Black publication), inevitably, you’ll be asked by gatekeepers asking how they can make things better. This is problematic because, other than the fact there are Diversity & Inclusion consultants who are professionally suited for that, Black people are tired. We’re tired of “discussing” into a void. Some of us are more than happy to give gatekeepers the truth, but at what point does this simply become lip service?

In a recent interview with Elaine Welteroth for Bustle, Rae touched on that very wearying conversational trend and how simple the answer really is.

“It is annoying that it is like, ‘Well, what should I do?’ And it’s like, ‘Do the fucking work. Just do it, find it.’ You create worlds out of nothing, but you can’t find a Black PA or a gaffer or whatever? They don’t fall in my lap — I seek it,” Rae said. “Since we’ve had these uprisings, since we’ve had these Hollywood conversations, I’ve been on white-ass sets that are acknowledging why we need diversity. So I’m like, ’Something’s really clicking.’ But I don’t know what else to tell you. I can only show you or do it, but I’m not the one. I am tired.”

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“I got exhausted having these conversations the other day, where I’m like...I don’t want to be the tokenized person for you to talk about these experiences with,” she continued. “But I’ve said that before, too, and I still am. I know that certain companies have empowered the voices that are interested in making a change and that are really about that life. But there’s still some empty gestures that I’m like, ’You’ll never get it.’ It really is going to be up to us. But as long as you’re getting out of the way and truly leaving it up to us, then I do feel OK about it.”

Speaking of the industry’s issue with true inclusion for Black creators, Rae did follow up on that hilarious Emmys segment where she talked about the first time she pitched a show and a non-Black executive tried to tell her—an actual Black person—what Black people wanted to watch. “One of us got fired after that,” Rae said with her patented grin and guffaw, causing all of Black Twitter to burst into uproarious laughter. Oop!

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“It felt petty,” Rae admitted. “I mean, I knew it was petty, even when I said it, and laughed. It’s a story that I tell usually in private, and so to put it on this platform felt like, ‘Oh, am I doing the most?’ But [that meeting] made me who I am, and yes, it was a motivator of, you can’t let people tell you...That is the prime example of someone who wanted us to seek white validation in a way, under the guise of empowering Black narratives. And that did not sit right with me.”

A hella secure Black creator who doesn’t need to seek white validation to be successful. We love to see it.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

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SEE ALSO: Nonprofit orgs trying to finagle pro-bono diversity training work out of POC members of the sector.

“Hi, this is obviously SUPER IMPORTANT for our brand and stewardship efforts, but could we not pay you for it if it’s okay? KTHNX!”