Issa Rae Isn't Afraid of Her Ambition

"I want to celebrate my fellow ambitious women."

Issa Rae
Photo: Taylor Jewell

Badass Women celebrates women who show up, speak up, and get things done.

With her creativity and frank, relatable humor, Issa Rae has solidified her spot among entertainment’s top talents as a virtual one woman show. She mastered the art of going viral back in 2011 with her YouTube hit The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. (Her page has 465,000 subscribers and counting). Her 2016 memoir, named after her YouTube series, became a New York Times best-seller. She earned two Golden Globe nominations for her first TV series, HBO’s Insecure (now in its fourth season), which she writes, executive produces, and stars in. Along the way, she’s been likened to entertainment giants like Shonda Rhymes and Ava DuVernay. And her ambition shows no signs of slowing down.

Rae has already starred in a feature film this year, romantic drama The Photograph, and as she gears up for the release of her next film, rom-com The Lovebirds, the actress says she is looking forward to even more opportunities to flex her creative muscles. “Early on in my career, I was kind of ashamed to say things out loud, to say I’m worth doing this or I want to be this or I want to do all these things,” Rae tells InStyle. “I think nothing makes me feel more powerful than creating something from start to finish. I think that’s just — not to be hubristic — but you’re kind of playing God at that point. Creating something. Like that is power.”

Owning It: Claiming space in the entertainment industry wasn’t always so easy for Rae. She says she initially found it hard to speak up and charge forward with her ideas. “Part of me felt like I could not compete with my male peers in that way, who were proudly proclaiming all the things that they were gonna do,” she admits, adding that the more work she completed, the more she felt comfortable taking charge. Now she says that she's exceedingly proud to call herself ambitious, which is part of why she decided to become an ambassador for American Express’s Ambition Project. Launched on International Women’s Day, the program supports women in the workplace and encourages people in positions of power to pay it forward.

“I think more women need to be celebrated across all industries for being ambitious,” she says. “And I want to celebrate my fellow ambitious women." Earlier this year, Rae seized an opportunity to do just that while announcing the all-male Oscar nominees for the Best Director category. Her simple one liner, “Congratulations to those men,” instantly went viral.

Secrets to Success: “I think once you start doing the work, it’s about finding equally passionate people to work and grow with,” Rae says of the secret to her success. But that definitely doesn’t mean sticking inside her own bubble. “Finding great people across mediums and in areas where I was weak to build with has been essential to my career growth,” she adds. “There’s just so much wealth, creative wealth, in working with people who don’t share the same experiences as you.”

Being a Badass: “Ithink it’s badass to claim that you’re good at what you do. Like this is who I am, deal with it. And I’m good at what I do. And continuing to do it.” If she could go back to the beginning and give herself one bit of advice, she would say stop laying the pressure on so thick. “For me, early on I was just like, ‘By 20, I need to be this, and by 25 I need to have this.’ And it’s just not realistic. Like nothing’s going to work on a very specific timeline. You just gotta keep your head down keep working, and if it’s meant for you, it will come.”

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