Issa Rae explains why her aunt made sure she always had Black Barbies: 'You need to see yourself reflected'

Issa Rae opens up about being a leader and double standards in Hollywood. (Photo: Getty Images)
Issa Rae opens up about being a leader and double standards in Hollywood. (Photo: Getty Images)

Issa Rae is a Hollywood success story. After launching her web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl in 2011, the actress, writer and producer turned it into a hit series, Insecure, for HBO. She followed it up by launching her own production company, HOORAE, which promised to promote diverse voices and create inclusive content — and by starring in movies across genres, from The Lovebirds and Little to The Photograph.

Still, Rae, 38, doesn’t consider herself at the top of her game.

“I feel like I’m in the second quarter, after a very successful first quarter,” says the longtime basketball fan, who recently partnered with the AT&T Game Ball Experience, a promotion that doles out prizes including NBA tickets to AT&T customers. “I have so much more game to play.”

A part of that comes with the upcoming Barbie movie, in which she portrays a presidential version of the iconic doll — her favorite of which, growing up, was any version of a Black Barbie.

“My aunt was big on that — you need to see yourself reflected," she tells Yahoo Life. "I had an array of Barbies that I enjoy playing with and creating scenes — and being inappropriate with, for sure."

Specifics about Rae’s presidential role in the new Barbie movie is under wraps (as is much of the highly anticipated film’s plot), but when it comes to being a leader in real life, she has a few rules she lives by.

“Being present is such a huge part of it, as well as leading by example and being transparent while maintaining boundaries,” she says. “It’s essential to make sure you admit fault. That’s an underrated quality of leaders: Being transparent about the mistakes you have made and not being afraid to say that you don’t know something, while also being firm in your own beliefs. You have to have vision — that’s what people sign up to follow.”

As someone in the public eye, Rae knows what it’s like to receive criticism — including in the form of social media trolls. She’s learned to “dissociate” from the negativity over time.

“Seeing myself for the first time on a billboard, it didn’t feel like it was me, it felt like it was a representation of me,” she says. “Whenever I do see comments about an outfit, or even just me, I don’t take those things personally. I take those things as criticisms of an image or a brand. That way, I’m able to separate my feelings from it…There are things that may slip through the cracks and affect me, but it doesn’t last very long with that shift in perspective.”

Rae is notoriously private about her personal life, too. She married her longtime partner Louis Diame in 2021, but says motherhood feels like something she has to consider carefully in terms of her career — that's due, she says, to the “double standard” of how mothers, vs. fathers, are expected to manage their careers and parenthood.

“It’s still a fear of mine,” she says of slowing her career down as a parent. “I’ve spoken to a couple of my woman friends about it, in terms of my apprehension of slowing down, because I feel like I’m just getting started, and I don’t want to feel like I have to slow down. They’ve been really supportive in terms of what they’ve done to persist and still accomplish their goals. But men don’t have the same ‘clock’ that women do. They should, but they don’t have to be as present for newborns and toddlers in the same way — you don’t really see men’s lives change as much as women when it comes to having children. The expectation upon mothers is so much more than it is for dads.”

If and when Rae does decide to have kids, there’s a chance fans may not see much of her parenting on social media.

"I don't think I've ever had the thought 'I should be posting more' — if anything, I'm always just like, 'Should I be posting less? Can I post less? What can I get away with, how much can I disappear?'" she shares. "I love just popping out when I have something to say and then not showing my face until I do — because I love living life and I don't like the pressures of feeling like I have to tell people what's going on."

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