Departing from my usual TV viewing habit of not watching a show until season three or even having been cut off for almost a decade, I came to Unsafe just in time, when it premiered during my senior year at Howard University five years ago.
I experienced every moment with my peers – Issa Dee (Issa Rae) ‘s awkward rap monologues with herself in the mirror, her fiercely intimate friendship with Molly (Yvonne Orji), her “will they, won’t they didn’t “dance with her boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis), and the backshot heard across the world at the end of the first season. The shared viewing experience was an integral part of the show, a dynamic in which the writers often acted, teased, and embraced.
Unsafe has a solid place in the history of television. After Wanda Sykes premiered in 2003 Wanda on the loose on Fox, Unsafe – which was co-created by Larry Wilmore – is just the second show created by and featuring a black woman. The friendship at the center of it was also significant. We so rarely get to see a show with two dark skinned black women, let alone two black women who love each other deeply. Although there have been other shows – Being Mary Jane, Girlfriends, Living Single – which captured elements of those experiences, the characters were so often fully formed, already excellent, and steadfast. At Unsafe, Issa, Molly, Tiffany (Amanda Seales) and Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) were getting more and more. It was something new: precious, beautiful and worthy black works in progress.
In recent years, it is these simple acts of representation, combined with the humor and heart of Unsafe, who shaped their own community around the show, especially on social media during the Sunday night live tweet sessions. “It was real, almost too real, as evidenced by the heated debates it sparked each week,” said Bassey Ikpi, author of I tell the truth, but I lie. “It was just about seeing ourselves as we are. No judgments. No villains or heroes. Just black people trying to figure things out – sometimes failing in the process but still able to keep going. ”
It wasn’t until I left Howard and moved to the sweltering white town of Denver (I feel Tiffany’s impending pain, really) a year after the premiere that I enjoyed. Unsafe to the maximum. In the midst of one of the loneliest times of my life, it was a portal to the world of darkness that I had left behind, a world I didn’t know it would be so hard to return to. after college when jobs and moving would take me away from who I wanted to be.
Unsafe was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. As I walked through a white world for the first time in years Unsafe provided me with a glow of what I had missed, where I could see everyone who had ever loved or hurt or laughed with me portrayed on screen, in all our beauty.
It was a Black-ass show, and it felt real, like it was written for us. it actually spoke at Blacks – an unfortunately rare quality on television – rather than creating wacky and often questionable storylines that resemble Instagram slideshows about micro-aggression aimed at educating whites. At all levels, black creatives have been given the reins – black writers, musicians, costume designers, directors, hairstylists and visual artists have all come together to give Unsafe its signature elegant, sexy and unmistakably Black AF aesthetic.
For me the end of Unsafe feels oddly personal, in a way I haven’t experienced with any other show. It sounds cheesy, but I grew up with these characters. Every step and setback, and all of the sorrows and triumphs and joys of the characters, are so similar to my own journey through my 20s. Saying goodbye to them is like acknowledging that I am entering a new phase of my life, a new phase of unexplored growth. Ashley Ray, an LA-based comedian and cultural writer who reviewed Unsafe since its inception, feels the same way. “I can’t help but feel like I grew up with the show and these characters,” says Ray. “Rae has created a world so vivid and pleasant that I can almost trace the moments in his characters’ lives with my own.”
Season five, our last with these characters, saw them evolve and grow. Molly comes out of her story of romantic disasters, Lawrence learns how to co-parent, Tiffany moves to Denver, Kelli has gotten sober (champagne and weed don’t count) and Issa is focused on her career and what’s going to make her truly happy. . But through Kelli’s existential crisis, Molly’s mother’s stroke, and Lawrence’s fear of flying, this season is all about death and the legacy as well. Who do we become when we leave this earth? What regrets could we have? What love do we leave behind? How do we remember?
It’s possible that this focus on death and legacy is just another example of the gentle way Rae takes the pulse of what black millennials are thinking amid a global pandemic and insecurity. economic ; she has always been adept at exploring social issues without being overdone and judgmental. But it’s also possible that this was a rumination about Issa Rae’s own living legacy, which created opportunities for other black creators in the industry, like producer and screenwriter Prentice Penny, the director and producer Melina Matsoukas, and writer and producer Amy Aniobi. Rae, who also starred in films like Little and Lovebirds, used his post to produce A black lady sketch show, the Green light of the project restart, and HBO Max coming soon Rap shit. She started her own audio company called Raedio – with the cooking show Butter + Brown and the podcast Fruit – and a production company called Hoorae Media.
Ashley Ray is now run by 3 Arts, the production company behind Unsafe, and she says it’s “something that probably wouldn’t have happened if Rae hadn’t ushered in a new era for black artists.” And this new era promises to be bright, with shows like Harlem, make the world run, and Large crew which are centered on black friendship. But even beyond, Unsafe influenced a wave of programming like I can destroy you it may not sound thematically similar, but is related by a concept; Blacks, especially black women, have the freedom to be vulnerable and messy, without being exceptional or having their sensational flaws.
In an interview with The New York Times, Jay Ellis said, “Part of the reason this show has never been a burden. Because the burden is great all the time. … But when we got to do the show like Issa, Prentice, Melina and Amy wanted, we didn’t have to wear masks for anyone or meet anyone’s expectations. This is real freedom.
The end of Unsafe feels like a loss, a transition from one period of our life to another. I grew up with Issa and felt all of her feelings of insufficiency and uncertainty, love and sorrow, longing and irritation, joy and ambition. For many of us, Issa and his friends were mirrors, reflecting our own journeys to us. They portrayed the imperfection of black millennials, leaning into it, but still gracefully. “Insecure wasn’t about showcasing our best or turning our trauma into entertainment,” Ikpi says. “It changed the way we think about black-centric entertainment. It was good for us to exist without wondering what that existence was like for people outside of us.
Last week, as I learned the news of the death of black feminist author Bell Hooks, I came across this quote from her book rrapture remembered: the writer at work. “No black female writer in this culture can write ‘too much’. Indeed, no woman writer can write “too much”. … No woman has ever written enough, ”Hooks wrote. This is what it feels like to say goodbye to Unsafe. I’m grateful for this loving and creative portrayal of black women, but I’m still not satisfied. Because we can never get enough, we can never get enough of seeing our stories. Insecure was a revolutionary show because it left us hungry and demanding more, knowing that we deserve more.