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Issa Rae just perfectly summed up why seeing interracial couples onscreen is so important

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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The Insecure creator is about to take over the big screen with two new romantic comedies starring diverse actors. Here, the actor explains why this representation matters so much. 

The romantic comedy is back, and Issa Rae is driving it.

This year alone the Insecure creator is appearing in not one, but two romcoms, both featuring people of colour in the lead roles and both two of the most exciting feminist films of 2020. The first is The Photograph, a passionate story of a woman torn between her mother’s past and her lover’s future, starring Rae and LaKeith Stanfield. Then there’s The Lovebirds, a film in which Rae and The Big Sick’s Kumail Nanjiani star as a couple who, in the middle of a romantic date, become unwitting accomplices to a crime. High jinks ensue, as the pair attempt to solve the mystery and keep their relationship intact.

In a new interview with Variety, Rae spoke out about how important it is for romantic comedies to feature diverse leads. In particular, she spotlighted the significance of The Lovebirds, for spotlighting an interracial romance onscreen that does not feature a white partner.

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“Every time there’s an interracial romance, it feels like it centers on whiteness, and it doesn’t have to,” Rae said. “Just so you know, there are people who don’t procreate with just white people.”

How many examples of interracial couples, featuring two people of colour, can you think of when it comes to film and television? Rae offered up one example: the 1991 film Mississippi Masala, starring Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury. Another might be the 1997 Cinderella, in which Brandy played the fairytale heroine and Paolo Montalbán her prince charming. More recently, there was the subplot pairing of Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs in Netflix’s romcom Set It Up.

There are other examples, but the list is not as long as it should be. All too often, romantic comedy as a genre has skewed white, even when depicting interracial romances. Rae – alongside other key Hollywood figures including director Jon Chu, who will follow up his Crazy Rich Asians success with an adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda’s gloriously diverse musical In The Heights later this year – wants to change that.

Rae, who made headlines earlier this year for her deadpan delivery of the Oscar nominations – “Congratulations to those men,” she quipped, when announcing the all-male suite of nominees in the category of Best Director – wants to make sure that diversity isn’t just the remit of actors of colour, though. Speaking to Variety, she said she was tired of answering questions about race. 

Issa Rae

“I don’t feel like it’s up to me to answer those questions. Like, I’m doing the work. I’m out here. I’m employing who I need to employ, I’m telling the stories that I need to tell,” she said. “Those questions need to be asked to the powers-that-be. It needs to be asked to the white people who run this industry.”

Likewise, Rae hopes that galvanising speeches, such as Joaquin Phoenix’s BAFTA acceptance speech in which he called out the “systemic racism” in Hollywood, lead to real change.

“I thought it was a step in the right direction. It’s just – hopefully, something will be done,” Rae added. “I think it’s easy to be like, [clapping to mimic applause] ‘I’m so glad he said something. Next. Let’s go get tacos.’”

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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