(L-R) Elaine Welteroth, Issa Rae, Yvonne Orji, Jay Ellis, Alexander Hodge and Prentice Penny speak at the Lowkey “Insecure” Dinner presented by Our Stories to Tell on Jan. 25, 2020, in Park City, Utah.
Photo: Michael Loccisano (Getty Images for HBO)

In addition to settling into a dark theater to watch a bunch of independent films, Sundance Film Festival is a time to network at a bunch of exclusive dinners and parties. Since we’re about that black-ass life over here, I decided to make sure to poke my head into events dedicated to black folks.

The term “diversity and inclusion” has become a buzzword so buzzy, it risks becoming something that represents nothing more than placating emptiness. There’s too much talking and not enough walking. However, that isn’t necessarily the case for HBO and its parent, Warner Media.

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As part of its Our Stories To Tell series at the Park City, Utah, film festival, I attended a couple of events hosted by the company, starting with HERstory, “a dinner in celebration of the talented Black women running the industry,” according to the Warner Media’s press release.

Equipped with chic table arrangements, cutely named drinks (there was even a drink called “Who All Gon’ Be There?” at The Let Out, which was Sundance’s version of the after-party) and delicious bites, the HBO parties felt like a warm home amongst the brisk mountainous region. Among the guests were Insecure co-creator and star Issa Rae, Kerry Washington (who will be directing an Insecure episode!), Robin Thede (A Black Lady Sketch Show), Yvonne Orji, Folake Olowofoyeku (Bob Hearts Abishola), Bevy Smith (Bevelations) and more…with sounds by our very own 2019 Root 100 DJ, Olivia Dope.

A view of the table settings during HERstory presented by Our Stories to Tell on Jan. 24, 2020, in Park City, Utah.
Photo: Michael Loccisano (Getty Images for HBO)

Next up, was a much-anticipated event, the Lowkey Insecure Dinner. Moderated by Teen Vogue alum and bestselling author, Elaine Welteroth, the guests were treated to a panel with Rae, showrunner Prentice Penny and cast members, Orji, Jay Ellis and Alexander Hodge (yep, Asian Bae!).

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First off, we had to recognize and acknowledge how big of a deal it was for this show, co-created by (and starring) a black woman and led by a black man, to make it to Season 4.

“I do credit HBO for taking a hands off approach in terms of never questioning our intent. [...] They just laughed along with the jokes like they got it,” Rae confirmed. “Or would be like, ‘I ain’t get that, but I figured it was just for y’all.’ because I’ve seen that so many times. People I’ve worked closely with that were black have said, ‘You know you have to break it down for the white audience’ and I never felt that that was necessary. Like in Curb Your Enthusiasm, nobody was breaking down those Jewish words I didn’t know! You just have to figure it out and roll with it. There’s a universal language that just comes with the human experience. I think HBO counted on that.”

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Alexander Hodge, Yvonne Orji, Issa Rae, Prentice Penny, Elaine Welteroth and Jay Ellis joke around at the Lowkey “Insecure” Dinner presented by Our Stories to Tell on Jan. 25, 2020, in Park City, Utah.
Photo: Michael Loccisano (Getty Images for HBO)

Beyond that, this was a show that actually boasted “diversity and inclusion” and had real receipts to back it up.

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“We have to break this cycle from the top-down, or it doesn’t change,” Penny said. “That was Issa’s and my whole point. Easily nice. It starts there. It starts from people getting into the union, we’re hiring people of color and women in sound, camera, grip...in departments that typically don’t have people of color or women, [which] was a big thing because we just don’t see them on the other side. But it starts from the people who are making decisions and the people who are making decisions don’t make other decisions, then we’re going to be left with what we’re left with.”

“This is the first time I’ve seen an Asian crew on set [...] And I didn’t realize how comfortable that was gonna make you feel because I shot a pilot last year and there was not one person of color on the other side of the camera,” Hodge said in an Australian accent that shook my entire table of charmed women.

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Guests attend the Lowkey “Insecure” Dinner presented by Our Stories to Tell on Jan. 25, 2020, in Park City, Utah.
Photo: Michael Loccisano (Getty Images for HBO)

“Coming from Season 3 [of Insecure], it’s one big thing for me now from this show going into any other project, I’m like, how serious are these people about representation?” Hodge continued. “Because, otherwise, we’re just puppets and they’re not really about it because they don’t want to change anything on the other side that no one sees. But, this is the first show that has shown me what it looks like to actually be diverse.”

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The dinner guests were treated to a cute sneak peak trailer of the upcoming season (we also know Ellis is directing an episode!), but we have to keep it under wraps until HBO officially releases it! Penny did note one thing, though, and it’s about the main thing that sparks most of the drama on the show—the relationships.

“We’re examining everybody’s relationship [and asking] is this a season relationship or reason relationship?” he concluded.

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Insecure returns to HBO for its fourth season on April 12.

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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