Over the last few months, a growing number of shows geared toward Black audiences have been canceled. Issa Rae, who created Rap Sh!t, said out-of-touch Hollywood executives are to blame.
“I’ve never seen Hollywood this scared and clueless, and at the mercy of Wall Street,” Rae told Time magazine. “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.”
Time published a cover story with Rae on Thursday, Feb. 1 — the start of Black History Month — for its inaugural list of “The Closers” recognizing 18 Black leaders working to close the racial wealth gap.
Following the death of George Floyd in 2020, several media giants announced initiatives to develop more content for diverse audiences and create more opportunities for people of color, in response to calls to end systemic and structural racism in the U.S.
But in recent months, some of those companies have been cutting their diversity, equity, and inclusion departments.
Rae, 39, said part of the problem is financial executives and Wall Street suits are getting more involved in 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,” she said.
Rae created Insecure, which ran on HBO from 2016 to 2021. In 2021, Variety reported she signed an overall production deal with WarnerMedia valued at about $40 million over five years. The deal runs through 2026.
She has roles in Barbie and American Fiction, and served as an executive producer on Robin Thede’s HBO sketch series, A Black Lady Sketch Show, which was canceled in July 2023.
Last month, Max’s parent company Warner Bros. Discovery opted not to bring Rap Sh!t back for a third season.
Issa Rae: “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” https://t.co/EXbOwDpXP0
— TIME (@TIME) February 1, 2024
Rae said under the current Hollywood system, “smaller, quieter projects” are getting dropped more frequently.
“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 said.
Rae added that audiences of color are now seeing less of themselves in the media because of the shift in the industry.
“There is a bitterness of just like, who suffers from you guys pulling back? People of color always do,” she said.
Despite these challenges, Rae told Time she’s developing two new projects for HBO — “A project set in an ‘alternative present,’ that she will create, write, and star in. Plus, a comedy set in corporate America produced in partnership with producers of the shows South Side and Sherman’s Showcase.
Casey Bloys, chairman and CEO of HBO and Max Content, told Time the company values its relationship with Rae.
“We look forward to what genres Issa and Hoorae will take on next,” Bloys said.
Rae also revealed she is working on building a production campus for local filmmakers in her neighborhood of South Los Angeles.
“We have the investors; it’s just about locking in on that land,” she said. “When I tell you we’re ready, we’re ready… I have my little stake in this limited plot of land, and I’m gonna make sure that I bring in as many people to live on it as possible… So until we run out of opportunities, they’ll be good.”