Why ‘Insecure’ Has One of the Best Acting Ensembles of 2020

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Photo Source: Merie W. Wallace

As we look back at 2020, we at Backstage have pinpointed the year’s best big- and small-screen ensemble work for your SAG Awards consideration and beyond. For more voting guides and roundups, we’ve got you covered here.

Main Cast: Jay Ellis, Alexander Hodge, Y’lan Noel, Yvonne Orji, Issa Rae, Natasha Rothwell, Kendrick Sampson, Amanda Seales
Casting by: Matthew Maisto and Victoria Thomas
Created by: Issa Rae, Larry Wilmore
Distributed by: HBO

There are many reasons to love Issa Rae’s “Insecure.” Whether it’s the entertaining, laid-back, hangout feel of the show or the detailed exploration of the Black female experience in modern-day America, the HBO comedy-drama has something for everyone. A big part of its success can be attributed to its large yet intimate cast that brings multiple dimensions to the series’ realistic storylines.

Rae plays Issa Dee, a millennial in Los Angeles taking on the familiar pressures of balancing her career with her relationships. There’s a specific experience that Rae is highlighting as a Black woman that hasn’t really been explored so candidly and directly on television before. Her lovable awkwardness makes her one of the most relatable characters on the small screen. Even in situations in which she might not necessarily be in the right, Issa is a character to root for. Her persistent optimism keeps her afloat in life, especially when she’s down. Season 4 sees Issa putting together an important block party, a huge career milestone that sees her struggling to maintain her personal relationships. 

Yvonne Orji plays Molly Carter, Issa’s best friend since their college days. As a successful lawyer, Molly faces discrimination as a woman in the workplace; but she has even more difficulty in the dating world due to what many of her peers view as stunted social skills. Her inability to look beyond herself this season worms its way into her relationship with Issa. Orji achieves a lot with the character and bring layers to her that make her difficult to pin down. Molly can be selfish, but she’s loyal; she’s supportive, but judgmental; she’s smart, but not always emotionally adept. Still, Orji’s performance makes Molly a character we want to see end up on top.

The supporting ensemble brings impressive depth to the show’s world. Jay Ellis portrays Lawrence Walker, Issa’s ex-boyfriend, who, at the start of the series, is in a rut both personally and professionally. As his character develops, we see that he has a more proactive side that goes unseen by his ex. 

Then there are Issa and Molly’s friends Kelli and Tiffany, portrayed by the scene-stealing Natasha Rothwell and Amanda Seales, respectively. Their comedic finesse initially throws audiences off the scent of dramatic reveals to come. Seales’ exploration of Tiffany’s postpartum depression, in particular, was a moving highlight of this season. 

As Nathan, Issa’s friend who’s on a mental health journey of his own, Kendrick Sampson brings important real-world discussions into the story. Finally, Alexander Hodge as the charismatic Andrew helps coax Molly out of her shell while imbuing the series with even more honest subplots about race. 

“Insecure” is a multifaceted enough show that every viewer can find a character to identify with. And after all the dramatic developments on Season 4, all eyes will be on how the next season resolves them.

This story originally appeared in the Jan. 20 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.

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