Friday, January 21, 2022

“Insecure” Producer Amy Aniobi on How Show Validates Black Women’s Experiences

When Amy Aniobi watched the first episode of The Adventures of a Clumsy Black Girl as a young college graduate, she felt like she was being seen.

“It’s me! I’m doing it!” Aniobi exclaimed. “I don’t know how to talk to people in the hallway. I am a person who says goodbye to someone and goes in the same direction that they are going. I’m an idiot! “

Now 37-year-old Aniobi is approaching her 10th birthday as a screenwriter. In 2011, she directed the Awkward Black Girl writing room, writing the Season 1 episode 6, The Stapler. A decade later, she continues to work with Issa Rae, co-executive producing Insecure and directing her first episode of the series, which airs on Sunday.

Through her participation in the HBO special 2 Dope Queens and the comedy Silicon Valley, Aniobi launches his own production company and lays the foundation for aspiring storytellers to create authentic, true stories of ordinary people.

“I feel like I was put here to build bridges to future storytellers, as if that’s my goal in life,” Aniobi said. “When I got to [writing], I didn’t quite get it this work. I remember English teachers throughout college saying, “You have to be a writer,” and I was saying, “Yes, of course, but what am I going to do for the money?”

On the eve of her 10th birthday as a screenwriter, Aniobi has amassed loans on projects ranging from The Clumsy Black Girl to the HBO special Two Queens of Drugs, the comedy Silicon Valley and more.

Michael Loccisano via Getty Images

While Aniobi dabbled in poetry and plays, her introduction to writing was unconventional. She and her brothers created fake product advertisements and showed them to their parents, the most notable of which was the Ax Deodorant Body Spray, called “Aggression.”

As a student at Stanford University, Aniobi described herself as a “freaky gimp” surrounded by ambitious technology founders and wizards of engineers. Aniobi recalled that “the man who invented Instagram,” Kevin Systrom, had lived in the next hallway since his freshman year. Immersed in dance, music, and film courses, Aniobi took a wide variety of classes at school, eventually specializing in American studies.

Aniobi graduated in 2006 while Issa Rae was in her 2007 class. Aniobi can’t remember meeting Ray on campus, but she knew who she was, given the size of Stanford’s black student community and Ray’s prominence in the black theater community.

They were brought together by screenwriter Tracy Oliver. Oliver played resident sneaky girl and co-star Nina in The Bad Adventures of a Clumsy Black Girl and is the screenwriter for Girls Ride, BET’s First Wives Club, and the upcoming Amazon Prime series Harlem. ”

“Tracy was my little sister at Stanford,” Aniobi said. “After graduation, we just clicked. Even at Stanford, we were friendlier than most of these relationships. She called me every now and then and said: “Hey, I know that you are not my big one anymore.” But I wanted to run something with you. I think about film school, but it’s so expensive. “

Flanked by aspiring technology founders and wizardly engineers, the artsy Aniobi was an anomaly as a student at Stanford University.  Her love for a wide range of subjects led her to specialize in American studies.
Flanked by aspiring technology founders and wizardly engineers, the artsy Aniobi was an anomaly as a student at Stanford University. Her love for a wide range of subjects led her to specialize in American studies.

Aniobi told Oliver that she should apply to the University of Southern California. At that moment, something clicked.

“I remember talking to her and then I thought, ‘Damn it, why don’t I go to film school? “, – said Aniobi. “Then I realized that I was studying American studies, that is, culture. I want to talk to culture. This is what I want to do. “

Therefore, Aniobi applied to the University of California, Los Angeles, which she eventually attended from 2009 to 2011. Her Nigerian parents didn’t quite understand this at first, but her mother always wanted Aniobi to go back to school and get her master’s degree.

Aniobi said her father told his friends that his daughter was pursuing a “master’s degree in entertainment and television science,” with an emphasis on science like any typical Nigerian dad would.

“There was a lot of overestimation of their instincts,” Aniobi said. “They didn’t understand what I was doing, but they always loved and supported me. They were always like, “Okay, you’re walking this path. We support it, we just do our best. ”

“What ‘unsafe’ means is permission to contain many people. … This is permission to be exactly who you are, like a black woman walking around the world. It just confirms the experience of a black girl who loves hip-hop, rap, and black American culture, and can also live in the awkward space of “I don’t fit here.”

– Amy Aniobi, Executive Producer of Insecure

After taking the jump and moving to Los Angeles, a few months later, Oliver approached Aniobi. Oliver told her that he and Ray had started a web series and were looking for writers. After watching the first episode, Aniobi knew she was joining in for something special. On Wednesday night, they kicked out a room for four writers from her apartment.

“It’s just to stay in touch with someone I just loved as a person. Even when we met, none of us was involved in writing, or producing, or anything else. We were just two black girls at Stanford who liked each other, ”Aniobi said of her friendship with Oliver. “Writing Episode 501 [of ‘Insecure’]that took place at Stanford, it was almost a love letter to how [Issa and I] met because if it hadn’t been for Stanford, we would never have met. “

Los Angeles provided Aniobi with many opportunities, namely the opportunity to become one of the first 50 employees of Twitter. On the same day she arrived in town, she received a letter from the recruiter. Her dorm classmate Systrom passed her name on to the company’s headhunter and was offered an interview to join their marketing team.

Aniobi said: "Writing Episode 501 [of ‘Insecure’]that took place at Stanford, it was almost a love letter to how [Issa and I] met because if it hadn't been for Stanford, we would never have met.
Aniobi said, “Writing the 501 series. [of ‘Insecure’]that took place at Stanford, it was almost a love letter to how [Issa and I] met because if it hadn’t been for Stanford, we would never have met. “

“The point is, you make the best decision the moment you make it. The job that I actually gave up on Twitter for has helped me learn a lot about television, the structure of television, and made me the best student in my current field. I could become a billionaire, but I would probably feel very bad if I returned to San Francisco, ”Aniobi said with a laugh.

Since its premiere in 2016, Aniobi has produced Insecure and has even appeared in short episodes (in Season 4 Episode 2 and Season 5 Episode 1). Participation in the series taught her not to put boundaries around her dreams and that her aspirations are possible. Aside from being everyone’s favorite flutist on the show, directing has always been her desire.

In the Sunday edition her vision shines; Aniobi worked with the show’s costume designer Shiona Turini to ensure that every piece of clothing on every cast was from a Black-owned label. Moreover, “Insecure” taught her that her voice was correct. After going through so many empty spaces before working on the show, Aniobi had to learn to stop shrinking.

“I am a dark-skinned black woman, the child of Nigerian immigrants. There are many Nigerians in Hollywood now, but as a child I did not know and did not see this, ”said Aniobi. “Working on the show under the direction of a woman with a very similar past – Issa is part Senegalese and as dark as me – and the sight of her commanding spaces made me even more aware that my voice is valid.”

Amy Aniobi and Issa Rae talk during "Become your own powerhouse" conversation in June 2019.
Amy Aniobi and Issa Rae speak during the Be Your Own Power Conversation in June 2019.

Monica Schipper via Getty Images

“What ‘unsafe’ means is permission to contain many people. I feel like this is what it is. It is permission to be exactly who you are, like a black woman walking the world, ”she said. “It just confirms the experience of a black girl who loves hip-hop, rap and black American culture, and can also live in the awkward ‘I don’t fit in here’ space. Both of these experiences can exist in one person, and they were just me. “

In November, it was announced that Aniobi was launching his own production company called SuperSpecial. The name comes from a script she wrote many years ago, which features a brand company of the same name, made up of very ordinary people who strive to be incredibly special.

Aniobi said that she used to perceive her sensitive, emotional nature as her fatal flaw as a comedic writer, but now she is leaning towards that.

After "Unreliable," Aniobi creates his own production company. "Super Special," a content center that explores humanity regardless of race, gender and sexual orientation, and supports inclusive storytelling.
After Insecure, Aniobi creates his own production company, SuperSpecial, a content center that explores humanity regardless of race, gender and sexual orientation and supports inclusive storytelling.

Lars Nicky via Getty Images

“I loved the idea that this is a real home for storytellers, a place for sincere stories about real people,” she said. “It shows that people of all genders, creeds, races, religions, physical abilities, skin color and everything else have genuine humanity.”

She said that working on Insecure, a show that proved it could be successful by decentralizing whiteness, gave her the impetus to create SuperSpecial. She hopes that by sharing stories that go beyond the experiences of heterosexuals, cisgenders and white men, entertainment can affect others.

“Why are we here if we cannot write about our humanity and make people believe that we deserve to be here? We cannot change the world, but can we change the minds of some? That’s what entertainment does. We are not life-saving doctors in the emergency department, but in a sense, we are saving lives. I want to keep doing it. “

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