Panel discusses HBO series ‘Insecure,’ cultural depictions of black women at Logan Center

2:AM creative director Tyler McClelland, fashion director Jace Ross, psychotherapist Hanifa Akpe, artist Jasmine Barber and journalist Britt Julious discuss “Insecure” and cultural depictions of and by black women Sunday night at the Logan Center – Aaron Gettinger

By AARON GETTINGER
Staff Writer

Five Chicago women participated in a discussion about “Insecure,” the award-winning HBO series about two young black women’s friendship, personal and professional lives in Los Angeles, and how black women create and sustain artistic output in the face of societal and cultural expectations and criticism after a screening of its third season premiere Sunday at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.

Artist Jasmine Barber doubted that she could get real, spiritually, with the show’s showrunner, Issa Rae. She took issue with a scene in the third season premiere, which preceded the discussion, wherein a protagonist had to deal with a Lyft customer smoking a blunt in her car, saying that Rae had missed a chance to discuss marijuana in the black community more seriously.

“There are so many health benefits and holistic benefits… and people use [marijuana] as a healing component and not necessarily a trouble-maker,” she said. “I felt like I was watching a DARE commercial.”

Barber said art must always be seen in a comprehensive political context. “This time is big for black people and art right now. It’s crazy,” she said, urging people to take a chance “to have people be upset at you.”

Tyler McClelland, creative director of the 2:AM fashion label, which hosted the event, countered that the show included much with which black women could resonate and asked Britt Julious, a Chicago Tribune columnist whose features have appeared in The New York Times and Vogue, about how she chooses her subjects.

“I would say I support the underground and the underdog and the avant garde — that’s always been my realm, and that’s what I grew up in,” Julious said, adding that it is important to remember that black artists making black art are often pigeonholed into cliche topics, are not themselves the characters they create and subject to criticism because their artistic output makes up only a little of the broader popular culture landscape.

Julious compared the treatment of Rae with Lena Dunham, the “Girls” showrunner who has faced criticism for her less-than-adroit negotiation of intersectional feminism. While Dunham has received critical attention since her senior year in college, “Insecure” was stuck in development hell for years.

“Representation always matters absolutely; sometimes it feels like the person isn’t doing a good enough job because there isn’t enough representation, period, across-the-board,” Julious said, detailing her own fight with editors who only assigned her stories about shootings and other tragedies.

“We do put each other in a bubble, and I think sometimes we’re already in a bubble,” said Jace Ross, the 2:AM fashion director. “We’re black. We’re women. We already have all of these categories that we’re trying to break through, so I think the least we can do is try to see each other as who we are.”

Psychotherapist Hanife Akpe agreed, saying her own experience as the daughter of Nigerian immigrants who moved to Chicago from Atlanta would be different than another black woman from Atlanta with Nigerian parents who lives in Chicago.

Ross said her label 2:AM, which sells vintage clothing and accessories, allocates 10 percent from every purchase to the company’s “Dream Fund” that helps women entreprenuers by making angel investments. Ross said ticket sales from Sunday night’s screening will go to the Fund.

“What’s important to us is that we not only embody the side of women that we don’t get to see all the time, but we just want to show every background, every color, every ethnicity doing what they love to do and follow their dreams,” said Ross.

Jazmine Harris, a University of Chicago MFA student, said how happy she was that the screening and discussion had happened on a campus that is 56 percent male.

“To have women of color speaking to issues that affect the community and also being able to see themselves on screen, have a conversation, even debate about the accuracy of it was very valuable,” she said. “It felt very sisterly. It was a place I felt like I could come and ask questions and not feel ashamed about it in such a competitively intellectual space.”

a.gettinger@hpherald.com