Why Issa Rae’s new show about a bisexual black man is so important
As a woman of color, the degree to which Issa Rae has carved out a name for herself in the entertainment industry is an accomplishment in and of itself. But the positive reactions from both critics and audiences to her work have placed her as one of the premier voices of the black experience on television. She’s not only a talented creator and writer, but is actually shifting the way the industry views creators of color — and she’ll continue to do so through her first show, Insecure, as well as two new upcoming projects.
The third season of Rae’s critically acclaimed HBO show, Insecure, is slated to premiere this summer. Insecure isn’t about being black, but about black people. It allows black characters to simply exist and, in doing so, appeals to black people in particular while still also being applicable to any viewer grappling with things like modern dating and navigating adulthood.
Rae is also working on two more shows for the network. One is a drama set in Windsor Hills, California — otherwise known as the “Black Beverly Hills” — which she will pen alongside Scandal producer Raamla Mohamed. The other is titled Him or Her, which will reportedly be about a bisexual black man navigating his relationships and sexuality — a fresh take on dating in a genre that usually rehashes white 20- and 30-somethings’ will-they-won’t-they relationships in Manhattan. Rae will pen this show alongside Daily Show writer Travon Free, who is himself a black, bisexual man.
The latter show, Him or Her, is particularly exciting given that the intersection between the black community and homosexuality/bisexuality is one that is ripe for examination. While homophobia may not necessarily be more prevalent in black communities than others, it often takes a unique form given the other forms of oppression and experiences members in this community have. Discrimination against gay and bisexual men in particular often rests on the stereotypes of modern black masculinity, including the misogynistic posturing of hip-hop, the hardened, “street” characters we see on screen, and the latent sexualization of black men in media. As Moonlight director Barry Jenkins explained in a 2016 interview, black masculinity is almost performative: From barbershops to black tops, black men and boys uphold an expectation of hardened masculinity in which they are supposed to fit into a box of athleticism and toughness. The emphasis on religion in the black community also drives another wedge between homosexuality and widespread acceptance.
Presenting an honest portrayal of bisexual dating — and how friends, parents, and partners negotiate their own preconceptions about bisexuality, and LGBTQIA+ romance in general — is therefore important representation for those who may feel ostracized or silenced in their community. Take the groundbreaking and meaningful Emmy award–winning episode of Master of None about Lena Waithe’s character’s process of coming out to her mother. The experience was honest and handled with tenderness and delicacy. It offers a hopeful window into what an entire series based on this kind of romantic exploration would be like if given the proper time, development, and resources.
While a release date has not yet been set for Him or Her, the chatter already growing around the show, not to mention the buzz that surrounds any project that includes Rae, is a positive sign that traditionally dismissed narratives will continue to be given more screen time in the future. By continuing to use her power to partner with up-and-coming POC and LGBTQIA+ writers, hopefully Rae will set a new, broader standard for both representation and opportunity in the entertainment industry.
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