Issa Rae: ‘I’m sorry, but there aren’t a lot of smart executives anymore’

Issa Rae covers the current issue of Time Magazine, and the cover story is all about the racial wealth gap, and for Issa, it’s about Hollywood’s declines in employing Black creators and greenlighting shows written by, produced by and starring Black talent. Issa is one of the biggest Black creators working in Hollywood today – Time lists all of her companies and I was shocked to see how much she has going on (per Time): “Rae’s growing portfolio includes a production company (Hoorae), an indie music label (Raedio), a management company (Color Creative), a marketing agency (Fête), a prosecco line (Viarae), a hair-care brand (Sienna Naturals), and a stake in the U.S. SailGP Team.” AND she also owns an independent coffee shop in Inglewood. She’s not only a major creator, she’s a major employer, she is her own economy. Some highlights from Time:

Witnessing Hollywood backsliding on pledges to increase representation and diversity post-strikes. “I’ve never seen Hollywood this scared and clueless, and at the mercy of Wall Street.”

She doesn’t want to just create, she has to create successful projects: “I recognize that I have to do well economically to be able to make change. That’s frustrating, that’s ugly. But I recognize that money moves things faster—and so much of what I do is with the intention to help make those moves.”

Post-strike, so many projects disappeared: “But there was the frustration of, ‘Oh, my gosh, this project that I’ve been working on for five years just disappeared,’” she says. Rap Sh!t would not have been greenlit by WarnerMedia today, as all executives seem to want, she says, is safe, “universal” stories. Its cancellation is just one example of what Rae sees as a larger withering of promises Hollywood executives made in 2020 toward increasing diversity and representation, both on- and off-screen. “There is a bitterness of just like, who suffers from you guys pulling back? People of color always do,” she says.

On the current leaders of Hollywood. “I’m sorry, but there aren’t a lot of smart executives anymore. And a lot of them have aged out and are holding on to their positions and refusing to let young blood get in.” In prior eras, Rae says, the money-making suits mostly stayed away from creative choices. “Now these conglomerate leaders are also making the decisions about Hollywood. Y’all aren’t creative people. Stick to the money. The people that are taking chances are on platforms like TikTok: that’s what’s getting the eyeballs of the youth. So you’re killing your own industry.”

Questioning the feasibility of “smaller, quieter projects.” “When you have all of these streaming services that are competing with each other, it means they’re also moving the goalposts of what success looks like and what their brand is. It’s all mush. I know what my brand identity is and what I want to make. But if that doesn’t align with who’s paying me to make stuff, then that’s complex. We are malleable, but only to an extent.”

She doesn’t want her own blockbuster franchise. “I’m just excited to create and see what I can do in this space where everything is asking for those big, IP-driven things…I know what drives me and I know what brought me in—and I remember when they were telling me that they didn’t want to make my types of stories. So I’m still optimistic in that way.”

[From Time Magazine]

“Where everything is asking for those big, IP-driven things” – the thing is, Rae would likely never even step one foot in those meetings because the IPs aren’t there for Black women. No one is saying “let’s make the Black Barbie movie” or “we need to cast Issa as Wonder Woman.” That being said, I hope that she continues to dip her toe in those larger projects – she was wonderful in Barbie, and I hope she made lifelong allies in Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie. Robbie was similar to Rae when Margot created her production company, LuckyChap – the idea was to create more movies by and for women, and do it smaller. Then Margot asked to pitch for Mattel executives and the rest is history.

As for what Rae says about how the executives are scared, dumb and old… yeah, I believe that. We saw that play out during the SAG strike too – executives were truly saying the dumbest sh-t ever, and we saw Hollywood management slowly realize that they can’t actually treat their creators like garbage 24-7. She’s right about TikTok as well – executives are so far behind.

Cover courtesy of Time, additional photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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11 Responses to “Issa Rae: ‘I’m sorry, but there aren’t a lot of smart executives anymore’”

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  1. D says:

    It’s the Disneyfying of the entire industry. Disney and Warner Bros. own probably 80% of the companies making films and tv, with a little left over for Universal, Netflix, Amazon and Apple. Paramount is very close to be being bought by Warners so there goes another one. It was never an easy industry and since the 80s the majors were always owned by big conglomerates, but there was still some independence. Not anymore. It’s all about synergy of their “properties” and making the shareholders happy, which means things all look the same and they are churning out crap just to have enough content on the streaming services they all own. There are thousands of options on all of them but I still can’t find anything interesting to watch!

    I hope people like Issa can get private funding and make things independently which will hopefully strike a cord. Similar to A24, who began more as an aquisitions/distribution company but moved into producing and have become super successful while keeping the original spirit. Of course that was a bunch of white guys.

    • Sam says:

      Yep. So bored with the state of the industry. One of the most original movies I’ve seen lately was “The woman king”. Why can’t they explore more stories like that? Take me to other places and cultures, tell me stories I’ve never heard, show me fresh new faces and landscapes, how many times can we tell the same old stories of British royalty?

  2. TurbanMa says:

    I love hearing her vision and knowing she’s her own economy. I feel so understood and not alone when I watch her shows. I can’t really explain it but there is so much to be said for content made by women. And about corporate executives, yes we know! Out here living it. Woman in tech field and the c-suite folks are seriously lacking leadership, vision, just everything, it’s wild.

  3. lucy2 says:

    She is someone I really admire. She’s beautiful and talented, and could probably get by just acting, but she is really out there working hard to create meaningful work and drive more opportunities for others.

    • Christine says:

      I am right there with you, I have so much respect for her.

      I took my son to see American Fiction this weekend, and I can’t stress enough how excellent Issa is, she deserves an an Oscar.

  4. Micgui says:

    This is everywhere. No one wants to take ownership but everyone wants credit. Things are very messy right now.

  5. tealily says:

    She’s absolutely right. You see it everywhere. The people with the MBAs think they know how to do everything. They don’t. They are driving creative industries, the educational system, the medical system, etc. etc. etc. etc. into the ground.

  6. lisey says:

    Having worked in the TV industry in Canada for the past decade, I can confirm that executives are some of the most narcissistic and least creative people you will ever meet. The problem is that people with money are surrounded by sycophants who kiss their feet and praise any idea they have no matter how worthless it is.

  7. Surly Gale says:

    Whoever said the love of money is the root of all evil had it right. Creativity being sacrificed on the alter of capitalism. Capitalism is only bad when it has no conscience. When profit is ALL that is being strived for the “business” people who, in the end, just look at the $$$ aspect of….well…everything.

    • Yup, Me says:

      That love of money is the root of evil quote is a Bible quote meaning it’s specific to Christianity. It’s not a universal perspective. And if Issa fell prey to it, she wouldn’t be out here being her own economy, focusing on creating things that make money. She could be a creative in her house for herself.

      Money serves a purpose. Just like power does. And demonizing them keeps good people shy about getting their share and making positive change.

  8. Canadian geek says:

    I didn’t read Issa’s IP comment as not interested at all. She was in Barbie, and she also voiced a character in the new Spider Verse animated movie that will continue in the sequel. I think what she’s saying is that she has ideas and interests that she wants to pursue and she will find a way to pursue them in whatever way she can get them made. Her character in Barbie was a black female president, and her role in Spider Man was as a pregnant motorcycle-riding bad-ass spider person. Those all fit within the types of stories she wants to tell.