Issa Rae has hit another milestone in her career, although this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The star and co-creator of HBO’s game-changing Insecure has basically done that since she first landed on YouTube with the Shorty Award-winning web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. Mind you, that was her very first project.
Take Rae’s undeniable talent and amplify it with the skills of another comedy great and movie magic is about to happen. There are truly fewer names in the current comedy landscape that are more recognizable than Paul Feig’s, and he and Rae are preparing to team up for a new feature film.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Rae is set to star in American Princess, a new romantic comedy that will be produced by Feig through his Feigco Entertainment banner for 20th Century Fox. Stella Meghie (Everything, Everything) is spearheading the project behind the camera and directing from an original script by Amy Aniobi, who has worked with Rae writing episodes of Awkward Black Girl and Insecure in the past.
American Princess will be about Rae’s eponymous protagonist who moves to London and gets caught up in a whirlwind of high society life. Love finds her suddenly, too, and if that doesn’t sound like a magical, affirming adventure, I don’t know what does.
Sure, American Princess also appears to be a typical romantic comedy, but we all love those now, remember? Frankly, rom-coms did not just break financial records at the movies in 2018. They have sported significant narrative potential for years, proving that there is more than meets the eye regarding their fluffy, feel-good exteriors. Rom-coms are markedly valuable when there’s a conscious effort to ensure diversity on and even off-screen as well.
Meghie is the perfect choice to direct American Princess. All of her three feature films so far portray black identity – and particularly black women – with conscientious empathy and love. Her debut feature, Jean of the Joneses, is the most caustic of the lot, but that’s precisely the point of a comedy-drama about a dysfunctional family. Meghie introduces us to unique and vibrant characters that we may not agree with, yet will absolutely understand.
A mainstream YA adaptation followed up Meghie’s slate next. Despite the fact that Everything, Everything received a pretty tepid critical response upon the film’s release, I’m of the opinion that the movie – while imperfect – is lovely and life-affirming. Its story about an isolated girl who meets a mysterious boy and is swept her off her feet doesn’t really reinvent the wheel. However, these tropes aren’t utilized in cheesy ways, and the overarching narrative is expertly told through Meghie’s soft images.
Meghie’s most recent feature, The Weekend, premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. The film takes Meghie back to her indie roots, except now she traverses the space of the rom-com. In The Weekend, a comedian takes a trip away to her parents’ bed-and-breakfast with her ex-boyfriend and his new partner. Although the film lacks a distributor at the moment, those who were lucky enough to see it at TIFF would have been treated to the talents of an electrifying cast of up-and-comers carrying this peculiar, witty story.
Hence, to expect a similar caliber of storytelling in American Princess would be totally reasonable. Rom-coms featuring all-black casts seem like a vestige of the 1990s and 2000s, with only a handful of notable films like Think Like A Man and Just Wright coming out in the last decade. Regardless, directors like Meghie are making sure that these movies don’t simply get a comeback. Fresh, enduring talent must also spawn from them.
As Meghie tells the Los Angeles Times at TIFF:
“The cast [of ‘The Weekend’] is that age group that has been missing of young black actors who are all poppin’ and all really poised for major breakouts. That’s what was happening back then and it is happening again now. I’m happy to work alongside them and have our careers build at the same time.”
American Princess is one of Rae’s big screen projects that’s set to do just that – uplift her talent – on a much larger scale. Of course, as mentioned above, Rae is well on her way to stardom already, having conquered the small screen significantly. She was nominated for a bunch of accolades for her work on Insecure – including two Golden Globes and an Emmy. And rightfully so, because the show is a powerful and incisive portrayal of the messy coming-of-age that adults constantly undergo, yet doesn’t scrimp on the laughs in the slightest.
Rae’s first feature, A Bitter Lime, isn’t anything to write home about. Nevertheless, her key role as an inspiring activist in The Hate U Give serves to confirm that she deserves a more prominent film presence, too. The Hate U Give is a strong ensemble piece, but Rae fits in precisely by complementing the actors around her and providing the pragmatic and encouraging presence required to ground such an intense movie.
In contrast, American Princess marks a huge leading role for Rae in a big studio rom-com that sounds a lot less heavy than the drama of Insecure or the politics of The Hate U Give. Maybe it won’t be groundbreaking, but that kind of variety is vital to a healthy filmography for any actor.
American Princess won’t be all that Rae is up to, either. She has Universal’s Little in production right now, which will be directed by Tina Gordon Chism (Drumline). Furthermore, she will co-star with Bill Hader in Empress of Serenity, the directorial debut of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl writer Jesse Andrews.
In Rae’s case, her star just keeps on rising. We’ll be out of breath running to catch up as her career develops at a breakneck speed, but that’s definitely a great thing.