Web series: Issa Rae’s Awkward beginnings

She may be headlining her own HBO show now, but Issa Rae wasn’t always a television star. The young actress staked her career on portraying an awkward black woman in her web series – a demographic she says is rarely shown on television. In honor of the television series premier of her new show Insecure, we’ve looked back at Rae’s humble beginnings on her web series, The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl. Meanwhile, a Pixar animator has created a short called Borrowed Time that is totally worth yours. To learn more, read on:

Web Series: The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl: Issa Rae may be awkward, but she shouldn’t be insecure. The actress started on YouTube working on four different web series, including her most famous, The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl. Reaching skyscraper levels of Internet popularity, the show’s two seasons were optioned for a pilot at HBO, and is now currently airing its first season. In both shows, Rae portrays a brutally honest depiction of a black woman dealing with relationships, workplace drama, racism and, above all, awkwardness.

The series was first posted to YouTube early 2011, with the first season’s 12 episodes stretching out over a year. The show’s second season was picked up by Pharrell William’s creative collective i Am Other. The show follows Rae’s character Jay narrating her thoughts to the audience during day-to-day awkward situations – passing someone in a long hallway and waiting to say hello, repeating unheard questions and awkward one night stands. The show opens with Rae repeatedly running into a coworker at stop lights, questioning to the audience via voiceover whether she should acknowledge him each time or just wait until they both arrive. At the end of the episode, we figure out there’s a much deeper reason to her awkwardness for this particular instance.

Rae finds beauty in exaggeration. Her workplace is packed with supporting characters defined by single quirky traits; her boss (bluntly named Boss Lady) is cluelessly racist; human resources is religious and rubs it in everyone’s faces; one coworker never speaks above a whisper, leading to many awkward encounters. Jay navigates each day with a new situational awkwardness each episode – one recurring encounter in a long hallway leads to her finding her new best friend, Cece (Sujata Day) who shares her social awkwardness.

The show’s simple premise and enthusiasm for quirkiness are refreshing, though does occasionally get bogged down by a love triangle Jay finds herself caught in the middle of by the end of the season. Torn between a doting coworker and an acquaintance also named Jay (nicknamed White Jay for clarification), the show sometimes compromises its zippy humor for drama. It does however use her dates with White Jay to highlight awkwardness that can come from interracial dating, including White Jay’s seemingly racist date plans that end up just being all in Jay’s head.

Occasionally sweet, occasionally sassy, and occasionally bizarre, Rae creates a relatable hero that’s easy to cheer for in any daily situation. It’s perhaps this exact sentiment carried over to Issa Rae herself that makes her landing an HBO show so satisfying. As someone who’s watched the web series I feel compelled to cheer Rae on in her career, and there’s absolutely nothing awkward about that.

Short film: Borrowed Time: Pixar has redefined the animated family film genre by telling powerful adult stories and aiming them at kids, wrapped up in an eye-popping animated disguise. It’s no surprise, then, when Andrew Coats, animator for the studio’s Inside Out, Brave and more, teamed up with Lou Hamou-Lhadj to create a beautiful animated short that packs as much visual and emotional punch as Pixar’s best, in only a fraction of the time. Borrowed Time, at only six minutes, is guaranteed to leave an impact on the audience.

The film is set somewhere in a wild west illuminated by Coats and Hamou-Lhadj’s beautiful style. We see an old man wearing a sheriff badge reaching a mountaintop that evidently carries heavy emotional weight for him. The sorrow is etched on his face; dark circles are smudged under his eyes, and each strand of his partially gray hair and stubble is vibrantly textured. As the old man stumbles toward the mountaintop, we see flashbacks to his youth, where he is noticeably happier and healthier. He is being pursued to the top of the same mountain by unseen enemies with his father in a horse drawn carriage. Past and present connect as the both sheriff’s emotional journeys reach genuinely shocking results, an impressive feat for such a short animation.

Contrary to its title, the film doesn’t just borrow your time; it completely owns it. The film is packed with striking images, such as the sheriff’s electric blue eyes lighting up the dark mountaintop in the opening moments. Academy Award winner Gustavo Santaolalla’s score calms and strikes when it needs to. Every element works in total harmony to not just tell a story, but paint an emotionally-loaded image. It’s totally worth your time.