“As women, we tend to downplay ourselves, to dim our light, and we’re kind of conditioned, socially, to be humble....I grew up being a huge hip-hop fan, and none of my favorite artists are humble,” said Issa Rae as she accepted the inaugural Women In Film Emerging Entrepreneur Award at the 2019 Women In Film Annual Gala on Wednesday night, hosted by actress Xosha Roquemore. “They don’t even know what that means. So, in writing my speech, I decided to embrace this moment, in honor of them.”
“Emerging Entrepreneur Award...duh, bitches,” she joked, as the audience howled with laughter. “I’m the first, so you future hoes need to bow down, unless you’re ready to catch my fade, with your weak asses. I’m closing all doors behind me, so if you didn’t make it in, oops, your bad. Figure it out.”
“Entrepreneur means I did that shit by myself. To everybody who claims to have helped me get here: OK, and?” she quipped. “In conclusion, entrepreneur ‘til I die, I deserve this, bye.”
Of course, we all know it took a village to help Issa evolve from Awkward Black Girl to Insecure yet mega-successful media mogul. But she makes an important point, if even in jest. Women remain underrepresented in the film and television industries—let alone, black women—and yet, when we do achieve major milestones, we are typically expected to credit everyone who helped us get there—not a bad trait, but a fairly gender-specific one, nonetheless. As Viola Davis noted while presenting the Crystal Award for Advocacy in Entertainment to producer Cathy Schulman:
“In a world that has a bad habit of erasing us girls—of denying our history, our voices, our very personhood—we need champions like Cathy Schulman to drag that world kicking and screaming into the present, and on to the future.”
With that in mind, we can’t help but be thrilled by the emphasis on female entrepreneurship at this year’s gala, presented by Max Mara (which wardrobed Rae) with additional support from partners Delta Air Lines and Lexus at The Beverly Hilton. Additional honorees included Amy Poehler, actress Elizabeth Debicki, Mimi Leder (On The Basis Of Sex), Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Debra Granik (Leave No Trace), Chloé Zhao (The Rider) and Anne Fletcher (Dumplin’).
Significantly, the 2019 WiF Awards also introduced the inaugural class of its ReFrame Rise directors, the beneficiaries of a collaborative initiative of WiF LA and the Sundance Institute which provides “a comprehensive and customized two-year sponsorship ... to accelerate high-level sustainable careers for experienced female directors,” according to a statement from WiF. The multicultural, all-female class includes Desiree Akhavan, Haifaa al-Mansour, Patricia Cardoso, Hanelle Culpepper, Sydney Freeland, Zetna Fuentes, Tina Mabry and Meera Menon.
“Inclusion is what happens when diverse people are actually present in equal numbers in decision-making positions. When they are valued and heard. When their diverse opinions are considered equally,” said Schulman when accepting her award.
We agree. And when women are seen as equal contributors to film, television and so many other industries, maybe we’ll go back to playing humble about our accomplishments. But until then, like Issa said, “[We] deserve this. Bye.”