Dr. Smalls' book chapter explores how 'Insecure's' Issa Dee connects with viewers

Media Arts and Design

By Charlotte Matherly, staff writer

Dr. Morgan Smalls has been studying television for years. She wrote her dissertation on it at Howard University, and she teaches about it in her SMAD classes at JMU.

morgan-smalls-2021-250px.jpgSmalls wrote a chapter about Black women in television for “Television Dramas in the Global Village: Storytelling Through Race and Gender,” a book edited by Diana Rios and Carolyn Lin that came out at the end of 2021.

Smalls’ chapter, “HBO’s ‘Insecure’ and Issa Dee: Black Women’s Interpretations on Facebook,” focuses on an HBO comedy-drama that follows two Black best friends as they navigate their careers and relationships. Specifically, Smalls looks into main character Issa Dee: whether she’s created within historical and contemporary Black female stereotypes, as well as how the character is received on Facebook.

“I was specifically interested in looking at the ways in which the characters on the television show kind of leapt from the screen on the television show to digital spaces,” Smalls said.

To conduct her analysis, Smalls tracked subforums on Facebook and how users described Issa Dee. She found that the character didn’t align with historical stereotypes. This may be attributed to the show’s creator, Issa Rae, who plays Issa Dee in the show, Smalls said.

“[Issa Dee] was viewed as a very complex character that was fully developed, who had flaws and strengths,” Smalls said. “She was very relatable to those who commented on the character herself, like thinking about some of the ways in which she’s insecure or she’s imperfect, yet she’s still improving and growing.”

Smalls was already familiar with the topic — she called the chapter a “continuation” of her dissertation — but the writing process still took a long time. She also aimed to make the language work for multiple audiences — both her colleagues in her field and the general public, who are interested in the show.

“I think it’s a very interesting insight into the Black woman community or the ways in which they’re portrayed in television and how that’s reflected and how they can impact lived experiences as well,” Smalls said.

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Published: Friday, February 18, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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