The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
Whether you’re watching your favorite series on your phone, computer, or TV – the shows that we’ve grown to binge watch and/or critique were created by teams of people invested in the power of storytelling. Whether it’s a Youtube based comedy series or an HBO original, the tales told on our screens allow us to live vicariously through characters that remind us of ourselves, the people we love, and even the people we don’t want to be like. But, who are the people behind these characters? Who are the talented individuals who translate stories to reality?
In this week’s session, I’m joined by industry powerhouse and triple threat Writer, Director, and Showrunner, Amy Aniobi. Amy is one of the incredible Black women behind iconic shows like Hoorae Media’s Awkward Black Girl, HBO’s 2 Dope Queens, and HBO’s Insecure. Our conversation explores the characteristics of working in film and television as a Black woman and the necessity of mentorship in the industry.
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Executive Producers: Dennison Bradford & Maya Cole Howard
Producers: Fredia Lucas, Ellice Ellis & Cindy Okereke
Session 274: Black Women In Film & TV
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 274 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into our conversation after a word from our sponsors.
Dr. Joy: Whether you're watching your favorite series on your phone, computer, or TV, the shows that we've grown to binge-watch and or critique were created by teams of people invested in the power of storytelling. Whether it's a YouTube-based comedy series or an HBO original, the tales told on our screens allow us to live vicariously through characters that remind us of ourselves, the people we love, and even the people we don't want to be like. But who are the people behind these characters? Who are the talented individuals who translate stories to reality? In this week's session, I'm speaking with industry powerhouse and triple threat Writer, Director, and Showrunner Amy Aniobi. Amy is one of the incredible black women behind iconic shows like Hoorae Media’s Awkward Black Girl, HBO’s 2 Dope Queens, and HBO’s Insecure. Our conversation explores the characteristics of working in film and television as a black woman and the necessity of mentorship in the industry. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us over in the Sister Circle to talk more in-depth about the episode. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Here's our conversation.
Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining me, Amy.
Amy: Thanks, Dr. Joy. Nice to meet you.
Dr. Joy: Likewise. So you have been in this entertainment game for quite some time, we are aware of a lot of your credits, but I want you to take us all the way back to the beginning. What was your very first credit on IMDb?
Amy: Oh, on IMDb? I thought you were gonna be way, way back, like what was the first thing I ever wrote. And I was like, I'll tell you right now, I remember.
Dr. Joy: Oh, we’d love to hear that too, then.
Amy: The first thing I ever wrote and the first time anyone ever told me maybe you should be a writer was actually when I was in kindergarten. We all had to write stories, just stories from our minds, and I wrote a story and illustrated it too, about how I wanted to be a kangaroo. I think it was called “Why I want to be a kangaroo.” And it got published in a Texas Children's Anthology of Fiction and there was a big ceremony and I met Amy Tan, the writer of Joy Luck Club. I didn't know who she was, I was five. My parents didn't know who she was—they’re Nigerian, they're immigrants. But I remember it was like “take a picture with Amy Tan” and I remember going to this thing and bringing my book that I drew the drawings on. And that was the first time. Amy Tan I believe was the one who told me you're a very good writer. And I was like thanks.
Dr. Joy: Wow! That’s a pretty cool origin story.
Amy: Yeah, I think the seed was planted then. But my first credit on IMDb, I actually haven't looked in a while so I'm not sure, but I'm gonna assume it's Awkward Black Girl. I feel like it's got to be Awkward Black Girl because I started writing for that web series, Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, when I was still in grad school. I was in my second year of grad school when Issa’s team reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be a writer on the web series. I kind of knew Issa from college, we weren't close but blackness, we met. And I watched the first episode and it gave me chills because I was like, I've never felt more seen in my life, I am an Awkward Black Girl. And so I wrote on it while I was in grad school. And then after I graduated, when I became a writer's assistant on Happy Endings, which was a comedy on ABC. And while I was still an assistant on that show, I moonlighted at night as a real-ass writer.
Dr. Joy: I love it. So her team was familiar with you from you both being at Stanford?
Amy: Yeah. And even to explain that further, by her team, I mean Tracy Oliver, her producer. Tracy Oliver, who is an amazing writer in her own right, who has a mega deal at Apple and has the show Harlem on Amazon. Tracy was my little sib at Stanford, which meant I was an upper class black woman who was like, let me show you the ropes. She was doing great, she didn't need no rope shown to her, so we just became friends and stayed in touch even beyond graduation. She had gone to USC for film school and the producing program. And so when she started producing Issa’s web series, she reached out to me.
And I remember I sent her an email because she was like we're accepting writers, would you like to submit an application? And I believe my email was “B*tch, you know me, that’s my application.” My writing sample is I'm in grad school for writing, so you let me know. And she sent me an email back being like you have been accepted, and then that was when I watched the first episode. After she emailed me being like we have chosen you or whatever, I went back and watched the first episode of Awkward Black Girl because it had just come out. And I watched it and that was when I got the chills. I was like, holy, this is a big opportunity. Then I emailed her again and I was like, thank you so much for this opportunity, I'm so blessed, anything you need, let me know. And so the writers' room actually met in my living room, in my apartment living room for the next year and a half, two years.
Dr. Joy: Wow, I think a lot of us had that feeling when we initially found Awkward Black Girl. Like, oh my gosh, this is us on screen. It sounds like very early, you knew it was going to be a big thing. What were the signs for you that let you know that it was gonna be big?
Amy: It was raw, it was unfiltered and it captured on universal emotion. Not only from the very first thing where it says like “two of the worst things you can be is awkward and black.” That was something that as a self-identified awkward black girl, I had always felt. Like not only are you at the bottom of the social barrel because you're black (in white spaces, let's be honest), but you're also at the bottom of the barrel because you're awkward and you don't flow so easily in social scenarios. And I had always felt that. And then like her rapping to herself, as a kid, I had written songs. My mom has walked in on me so many times singing emphatically into the mirror and being like, are you okay? And I'm like I got emotions. It was the same thing. I was more like singing Gloria Estefan, like Bee-Sides. But Issa’s character rapping, it just felt very familiar. And I have so many journals filled with poetry from my youth, and songs and song lyrics and rap lyrics and spoken word and all these corny things. So that was all it. But then that universal feeling, like the first episode, I think it’s The Stop Sign.
“Awkward Moment. What's the protocol for repeatedly running into someone at a stop sign?”
And it’s where she says like hey to a guy at a stop sign and then they start driving and they keep meeting at the next stop sign, at the next stop sign. And I'm like, yeah, that's my nightmare. It was just universal themes of awkwardness and realizing that by identifying, I understand what you're supposed to think about me because I'm black and I'm awkward. By identifying it, it almost reclaims it in its own way. Even though saying “two of the worst things you can be” makes it sound like it's shitting on black awkward people, you're also reclaiming it and saying like, hey, I'm gonna stand in my truth. It also comedically felt very similar in tone with like 30 Rock and The Office and these awkward people comedies. Like comedies where awkward people were the star. And that, of course, was when it came out so it felt like finally one for us.
Dr. Joy: Do you think that there's anything different in terms of writing for a web series versus other mediums?
Amy: I think there can be something very different. But I'll say both Awkward Black Girl and the web series I created while I was an assistant on Happy Endings which is called The Slutty Years, we ran them like TV shows. You couldn't just be calling on your friends and hobnobbing together and not having a formal script, writing it in Word instead of using the correct software and all the things. It can be nothing like it. But to be honest, we ran ours like a show and by the time I got on Happy Endings and I was creating the Slutty Years, I knew all the prep meetings that went into making a TV show so I had those same prep meetings along my schedule. And as a result, when I finally got to be on set as a staff writer on the Michael J. Fox Show, I was like, I've done this before. With a lot lower budget, but I’d done it before. I had already had a props meeting, I had had a tone meeting, I'd had a production meeting. I had done it all because I just copied what I saw my bosses doing and was like, let's do it on our tiny scale with our $5. And so there was, I wouldn't say a full comfort, but there was sort of this, okay, the white people got more money, but we can do this. So it can be different but I think it depends on what your goal is. My goal was to be a TV writer so I ran my web series like a TV show.
Dr. Joy: It sounds like you have had quite a few different positions and I'd love to hear a little bit more about that progression. You were also the showrunner on HBO’s 2 Dope Queens. What does a showrunner do? It sounds like you are the head in charge. What does a showrunner do?
Amy: Well, Dr. Joy, that is actually correct. A showrunner runs the show. It's such an interesting job because I feel like you get into TV because you like written word and you like character and you like writing and you like being internal. And a showrunner is externalizing everything in your brain because no one can read your mind. You might write that a character is wearing a skirt and then here comes a wardrobe person who's going to say, okay, what color skirt? What length of skirt? Is it short? Is it long? Is it tight? Is it loose? And you're like, in my head, I saw this. Or they're gonna say, hey, you didn't specify, so here are nine examples that I have. And you're gonna go, yeah, that one. So it's like as the showrunner, you're externalizing all the things that are in your brain for this crew of 100 people to be able to execute them. Some people have that built into their mechanics of how they process story and for some people it's a learned talent. And then for some people, it's just not for them.
Not every writer in television sets out to be like “I'm going to be a showrunner,” because it's a right-brain left-brain mix that is not necessarily intrinsic to all creatives. Sometimes a show creator, someone who writes and develops a show, will hire a showrunner who's good at that right-brain left-brain, to do the translating for the crew. I feel like I've been pretty lucky to work for showrunners who are both creators and showrunners and that's what I pride myself on too. I'm very Type A and like I'm a Virgo, I'm a child of immigrants, I'm Nigerian. I'm a double Virgo actually, so I'm like Type A to the max. So I'm like, you want something translated from my brain, I got you because I don't want you to get it wrong. I feel like I was built to be a showrunner.
And so I will say being on 2 Dope Queens was the first time that I got to feel that feeling of truly collaborating with the talent so closely and being in charge at the same time with both Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams. And it was like putting on a jacket that was supposed to be mine forever, that was made specifically for me. I was like, this is what I’m meant to do. It was so much fun. And so that's what I run towards now, the opportunities that let me create and also lead. I also think that part of being a leader for me, intrinsic to the job, is mentorship. Mentoring is so important to me and I think all of my bosses who I really love work in the way where it's like mentorship is part of the job. And that has been really wonderful, to know that there's a place for me as a showrunner, as someone who loves to mentor and bring up other voices and other creators as well.
Dr. Joy: Thank you for that and I can imagine that is really important. You've talked a lot about your identity as a Nigerian, your identity as a child of immigrants and it seems like a lot of your projects also have this identity piece. Can you talk a little bit about why it's important or why it has been important for you to choose those kinds of projects?
Amy: I think the reason why so much of the work that I create grapples with identity is because it's something that I've grappled with since birth. I think storytelling and the medium of storytelling is one of the few ways that society gets to have a conversation with itself. Especially in comedy, you're getting to have a conversation with what you are going through now. But so much of storytelling—and by that, I mean artistry, music, sound design, architecture—they're all forms of storytelling. You are deciphering a piece of you in everything you create if you're doing it well. I think the best stories come from something real. And as a black kid, a dark-skinned black girl growing up in North Texas in a super white town with parents who had accents, I was always confronted with identity. And I think because I was awkward and, dare I say, goofy as a kid, I also was constantly leaning on comedy to help myself feel more comfortable in other spaces. Trying to be the funny one, trying to make people laugh with me rather than at me kind of thing.
And so I think so much of what I create will always grapple with identity because it's something that I still grapple with to this day. There are all always days that I'm going to feel not black enough by the standards that someone else has set or not feminine enough by the standards that someone else has set. It's just like we're constantly being checked. Not only as black people—as women, as Americans, as just whatever identities we hold, we're constantly being checked by standards that someone else has set. Those are all going to be conversations about identity. So when I put it in my work, it's because I'm trying to figure it out for myself too.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. And I think that that is what makes so many of your projects just incredibly relatable and we see ourselves in them. But I can also imagine when it is you. It’s maybe a characterization of you but still in some ways you, it may be difficult to deal with that being on the screen and have people pick it apart and critique. How do you take care of yourself when it is you in these stories?
Amy: A lot of it is the mute button is mad helpful. Social media. Someone once told me if you read the good reviews, you have to read the bad ones, like you can't just read one side. And vice versa. You're not allowed to just live in beating yourself up and you're not allowed to just live in praising yourself. That was just advice that someone told me because both make you better. So I do kind of believe that but I already, in that, there are certain review sources that I trust. And the ones that are just like bloggers, I kind of tend not to internalize what they're saying because sometimes (a lot of times) it's coming from a place of being a super fan or being a super critic. And then in terms of staying sane, honestly, I find that I am just too busy to read all the comments. So I will do my little scan through like comment section or like I'll tweet something about a moment in the show and I'll do my little scan and then I’ve gotta move on. I’ve got a job.
I'm just sort of like, at the end of the day, a bad tweet or someone critiquing my work does hurt my feelings. There's no way around it. I don't know what it is about social media, but a stranger saying something mean to you almost hurts worse than a friend and I don't know why. So when I feel like I'm running up against that, I'm like, mute, delete, block, move on. I'm just like I have to get away from that feeling. Because I'm like, this person doesn't know me so I don't want to internalize that. Luckily, I'm pretty busy so I can't dwell on the comments too long. But other than that, I just try and move on quickly.
Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Amy after the break.
Dr. Joy: You've talked about mentorship being really important and I know sometimes this can be a difficult field to be in as a black woman. Like they're not a lot of us in positions to kind of bring other people up. And it sounds like you are doing your part to try to open the doors for others. What has your experience been with people doing that for you? Has that been difficult?
Amy: No, I don't find that people supporting me, as I have grown in this industry, has been difficult. I think I am someone who has worked hard from the very beginning to say, I need to make the person on the other side of the table look stupid saying no to me. So when I had my first job as an assistant, I remember looking at the early level, like green writers that my boss read and I was like, oh, they either have an Instagram presence, they've come through a program, they've independently made something, they've gone to grad school, or they have reps. And I was like, okay, I got a year, I gotta do all five of those. Because I'm a black woman. I was like, I can't do one of those. The idea of like I got one script, somebody find me, I got my one script. I'm like, what? Are you white and straight and male? Other than that, I don't understand that.
I've always been like if there are five ways you can get in, I got to do all five. Once I committed to that... Because I used to be the “I got one script girl,” and then all through grad school I was like my one script didn't get me stuff, didn't get me a deal when I was 19, and so I realized I can't be that person. I'm a black woman who came from outside of the industry, I got three strikes so I got to work three times harder. And so I believe in making yourself someone who is hard to say no to, someone who is too qualified for people to ignore. Now, here's the thing. You might not have control over their racism and their politics, but I do have control over what I can produce as content. Once I got into that mindset of like, oh, you got to put that gas on, you got to pedal down to the ground and literally go, once I got that in my head, I was like yeah, of course, I'm going to be successful.
I'm not even kidding. I was like, I know it hasn't happened yet, but it's gonna happen because it has to happen because I've done all the things. There got to a point where I had a writers’ group and we used to get together. And we'd be like, have you done all the things? And I was like I have done all the things. I'm in a program, I'm working on a hit show, I'm an assistant, I helped write a web series, I'm creating my own web series, I started a Twitter feed and I post jokes every day. I have done all the things. Oh, and agents are meeting with me. So I got to a point where I was like, I've done all the things so I know it's going to happen. And then I just had to be patient and keep doing all the things.
As a result, I think once things start to fall in line, I feel that people want to help people in their careers who are already helping themselves. I find it frustrating albeit understandable when people who are not in the industry are asking, can I get a job? Or like can you give me this? Or I'm looking for this, can you help? I understand it but it doesn't make sense. When you actually do the work to look at the bios of everyone who you admire and see all the things that they did, you need to get started doing all the things. And once you've done that, it's so much easier for someone to say, oh, we're in a boat and I handed you an oar and you're actually rowing. Like you're not depending on me to row us up the river. You have an oar in your hand and you're rowing too, so now we can row together. All right, yeah, let me help you.
I think there is this instinct of like, how am I supposed to get there if I don't have help? Google is free. What I did was google, how do you write a script? How do you do this? And I just started doing the work myself. Formal education is only part of it and the rest has to come from you. So when I finished grad school, I'm still in school. I still take classes, in writing classes, in creativity, like how to unlock your creativity and all these things. And I started in deep, so I'm always going to be someone who does all the things. Unfortunately, it's hard because I'm looking for that next level of success for myself and I have to get back to that place where I'm like, I know it'll come because I'm doing all the things. That's where I want to live and I have trouble with it, but I remember that girl who was an assistant on Happy Endings and doing all the things and was like, it's gonna happen. “Let me just sit here and keep doing what I'm doing.” I think I answered your question, I'm not sure. I might have gone on a tangent.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, you did. I have a couple of follow-up questions for that. You are doing your part to try to make that process easier for people with your talent incubator drive. So you are kind of putting some processes out there for people to do the things that you're talking about?
Amy: Yeah. And that's so much of why I started TRIBE. I started it in the pandemic, by myself, with 33 writers who I reached out to and said, hey, are you looking for community in this time when we're all on Zoom and America is on fire? Are you looking for community? And I got a resounding yes. And so I started out planning monthly panels and talks and workshops about hard skills versus soft skills and creativity. And I started during production of the final season of Insecure, during a global pandemic when I was directing my first episode of television. It was very stressful. And the best-laid plans turned into kind of murky stuff. I was like doing these panels but kept changing the dates because my production schedule was changing and all these things. And I was like this is really hard to run a program by yourself.
Luckily, with the renewal of my overall deal at HBO and HBO Max, I got the chance to hire an executive who could help me not only build my slate and help me with the work that I want to make for myself, but also investing in new work, and investing time in building new talent. That's what TRIBE is for. TRIBE is about taking the people who have just entered the boat and still have that oar and are going to row with me and say I want to go in the direction and the speed and the pace at which it is to be successful in this industry. And I say good, great, let's go. Let's get there together. I believe there's a myth that being a creative is a lonely act, like a lonely creative, and you’ve got to write alone in your house and your best creativity is found in solitude. I don't believe that. All my best opportunities have come from people sitting right next to me, people who I networked across with rather than networking up, and I want to build that. I think the only way you build a new industry is by starting with compassionate creatives of color. We've got all the ideas, we're kind, we care about the people as much as the work, and that's what I'm here to build and that's what TRIBE is all about.
Dr. Joy: Can you tell us more about the overall deal? I think a lot of us here were so excited for y'all when y'all announced these overall deals, but I don't actually know what that means. What does it mean to have an overall deal and what kinds of projects have you been working on as a part of that?
Amy: Sure. In television, and it happens in features too, an overall deal is basically you've been in business in some sense. And it can be small, like you have one project there, you've sold a couple pitches at a certain company, and they recognize that you have a voice or skill set that matches a lot of the work that they do. So you get an overall deal which means you now kind of are making projects specifically for that place, for that home company, that home studio, that home network. And as a result, you are on salary so you're paid more regularly than bouncing from show to show to show so that you can continue to hone projects for them.
Both my deals have been with HBO. To me, HBO is like an artist's home, which makes me feel really blessed and fortunate to have a deal there. Because sometimes as an artist, the things that you're thinking of are very specific and you see them a very specific way and I find that HBO is a place that really supports that and supports my creative process. And so I'm really looking forward to continuing to build with them. I have a few shows in development both at HBO and at HBO Max that I'm just working on and plugging away. And hopefully, there will be something that gets seen sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, all I have control of is my ability to produce my content so I'm doing my best with that. I'm hopeful for the future. I have a lot of stories to tell and I'm really hopeful for the opportunity to get to tell them in HBO and HBO Max.
Dr. Joy: We will be tuned in to make sure we see all of this glory unfold. You know, the other thing that I have been curious about is what actually happens in a writers' room. You've been in lots of writers’ rooms, I think probably the one you were in the longest was the Insecure writers’ room. Was that your longest stint in a writers’ room? So what actually happens in the writers’ room?
Amy: Anywhere from five to 15 writers sit around a conference table and talk all day and there's not much writing that actually happens in a writers’ room, it’s a lot of talking. And there's a writers’ assistant who types everything that the writers say as we come up with story. The showrunner formulates what we're going to be working on that week and the things that we're trying to achieve story-wise. A story, B story, C story, episode one, season arcs, character arcs, all the things. We just talk all day and figure it out and then we start putting it up on a whiteboard, putting notes on the board. Some rooms use index cards, we use different colors per character. So we'll be like Issa’s story is in red, Molly’s story is in blue, Lawrence's is in green, and we write them up on the board. We figure them out together as a room.
And then the writer of a particular episode goes off and takes those bits and turns them into an outline. And then that outline comes back to the room, they get notes, the room all together rewrites that outline. Then in some rooms, the writer then goes off on their own to write the script. But in some rooms the episode gets group-written and scenes are divided between the writers, they all write, they assemble the script, it comes back to the writers' room. We rewrite that as well. And then once we get that in the place where we like, Issa and or Prentice will put like a little last sprinkle and special sauce on it, the things that they want. The showrunner will do that. And then it goes to the studio and or the network. At HBO, they're the same place so it just goes straight to HBO and then they get notes. And then it goes back to the writers' room, we rewrite that again. And then it goes to the actors and we have a table read and then after the table read we get more notes and then it goes back to the writers' room and we rewrite that again. And then we start shooting it and then on set, sometimes there are questions that come up and then it goes back to the writers' room and we rewrite that again. And then we keep shooting it. So I don't know. What happens in a writers’ room? Story gets created. I think that's a long and short answer. Story gets created. And I'm having trouble describing the process because it's like organized chaos, we just create. I don't know. Is that a good answer?
Dr. Joy: No, I mean that is helpful. I think I was under the impression that the writers' room wrapped before the actor started shooting but it sounds like the writers' room can still be active even in the midst of shooting if like something needs to be rewritten.
Amy: It depends on the show. In network, the show is getting shot (like filmed shot) at the same time that the writers' room is breaking stories so they're still around. A lot of streaming and cable shows, the room wraps before you start shooting.
Dr. Joy: Got it. More from my conversation with Amy after the break.
Dr. Joy: You did talk about Insecure being your longest stint in a writers’ room and it's been some time now since we had to say goodbye to Insecure. I'm wondering what has that been like for you emotionally. I know as viewers and fans of the show, I think a lot of us had to make peace with saying goodbye to this thing we loved. But you, of course, were much more intimately acquainted with the show and so what has it been like for you a couple of months later, saying goodbye to this thing that was so close to you?
Amy: I will say the thing I try and remind people is that our goodbyes as the people who work on the show started so much before fans' goodbyes. Because we as a room broke the episode, we cried then. Then we wrote the episode and reread it—we cried then. Then we table-read the episode—we cried then. Then we shot the episode—we cried then. And then as an EP, I was on post so I saw every single cut of the episode and cried and cried and cried and cried. And then we did a final mix of the episode with the final music and we cried then. And then it went to air. So by the time it aired, I had already shed all the tears. In fact, what made me cry when I watched the final airing was the documentary that aired right after it and getting to relive those goodbyes. That's what made me emotional. Seeing the finale. I had already absorbed all of the sad and bittersweet that I could absorb off of that finale from all of the months of creating it with the team.
And so I think post all of that and saying goodbye to it, in terms of like holistically saying goodbye to it, yeah, it remains difficult. Especially as someone who I love being on set, I love it so much, I loved directing on Insecure and later directing on Rap Sh!t, I love being in the room, I love breaking story with writers. And development is not that. Development is more internal, it's more conversations with producers, it's more like thinking how it could go. And so I've been in development now for almost a year. We could call it six months since Rap Sh!t because I directed on Rap Sh!t in November, December. But like, I miss that so much, being part of the machine that is moving. I miss it so much. That's where I belong. I'm happier when I am in the mix of the machine. That synergy, that energy, making something together with people who understand what you're making, all at the same time. Insecure in particular was very special because we had so much of the same crew from as far back as Season 2 and a few people even from Season 1 who stayed through the whole series. And so we were all saying goodbye, not just to the show and the content and the characters, but to each other. And that is something I miss. Building something great with people who understand you're building something great, all at the same time. It's a really, really beautiful feeling and that only comes through time. That only comes from making something that lasts more than half a season.
Unfortunately, lots of shows get canceled before they get that far. Like when I watch Quinta Brunson’s stories and stuff on Abbott Elementary, I'm like they get it. I'm like they are experiencing it now in their first season, how special it is to be making something special that everyone else recognizes as special. They're getting that now. So many shows that you see that you're sort of like, okay, they get it and I want that again. I know it will never be exactly the same as Insecure because it really was the first of its kind in so many ways. Even though it was also continuing the legacy of many black shows that came before it and many adulting stories that have come before it. In its own way and its own artistic way—thanks to the eye of Melina Matsoukas, the original mind of Issa Rae and the leadership of Prentice Penny—it was one of its kind so I'll never have that specifically again. But that ability to be in the machine, oh, how deeply I want it back. And I can only cross my fingers and hope because I'm trying so so hard, but it just takes time.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, and I also love that so many of you, it seems like, continue to do projects together. It sounds like you were able to direct on Rap Sh!t, and I'm sure maybe some of those same people will be working on some of the shows that you are coming up with.
Amy: Yeah, there's been a lot of Insecure cross-pollination in lots of different shows. Shout out to Phil Jackson who created Grand Crew, Kindsey Young who was an Insecure writer is writing for him. Obviously Syreeta Singleton who is the showrunner for Rap Sh!t got her start on Insecure. There's been a lot of Insecure cross-pollination and I'm very excited for that to continue for years and years and decades to come.
Dr. Joy: Earlier, you mentioned that you feel like you are trying to unlock this next level of success for yourself. What does that look like? What are you hoping to grow into doing?
Amy: Dr. Joy, this interview is making me sweat, I'm just gonna be honest. I'm like, is this therapy and me dealing with my weaknesses? I'm just like, oh girl, what does it look like? I'd love to know.
Dr. Joy: What do you want to do?
Amy: What do I want to do? The number one thing I want to do is change this entire industry from the ground up. I do believe, as I said when I was speaking about TRIBE, it starts with investment in compassionate creators of color. And the reason I say compassion is because everybody in this industry has passion for their job, or some people passion for power, but compassionate means you care about the people as much as the work. That's what I care about most, that's the type of creator I am, those are the creators I want to pour into. So I want to change this industry. And I want my voice on television. But the more important thing to me is to change this industry. I want more people who look like me in the spaces that I get to be a part of and beyond. When I look at the writers, there's like a mid-level writer problem, where there are a lot of lower-level writers and upper-level writers of color, and not a lot of mid-level because people aren't being encouraged to matriculate upwards. People aren't being supported in their failures and I think we have to support people of color in their failures, just as the industry supports people who don't look like us all the time.
I have to be given space to fail and I think what's hard as a creative of color is very often, you don't get opportunities until you've proven you've already deserved them, whereas lots of people can bet on a straight white man's potential. And I really hope that if I can keep moving up, I can start betting on other people's potential on their behalf. That's what I want. So beyond that, yes, I want to be a showrunner again, I want to run my own show, I want to run multiple shows. I have it in me, like my brain just operates that way, I can do it. So it excites me when I think of the idea of running two shows at once. I think people would be terrified. For me, I’m like, yes, something for my head to do besides just think of myself. Or I’d like something for my head to do instead of just be admired and doubt.
The idea of running multiple shows at once is really exciting to me. Because not only am I like, yay, Amy gets to run two shows, but I'm also like, yay, I get to have two number twos who are ready to be showrunners and I get to build them. And I get to mentor them and I get to pour into them and get them ready to run their own shows. That's how deep I believe in mentorship is that I want to run shows so I can create more showrunners. I believe that the reason people are storytellers is because stories can last forever so I'm in this to be immortal. I want to be immortal and by doing that, it means that my ways, my methods of telling story and my ways of training, the things I believe in, the way I operate, cannot die with me. I must pour into the next generation to be immortal. So for me, the reason I want multiple shows on air is so that I can create multiple showrunners so that they can create multiple shows that are all being led by compassionate people and we actually change this industry. This is a marathon, not a sprint. I got sprint energy and I really want to win now. But I also have to remind myself all the time that this is a marathon and I'm just getting started. Insecure is the foundation to what I'm going to be tomorrow and I'm so excited to get there. I hope it happens sooner rather than later but I don't have control over the timeline. Just the dream, so I'm focused on the dream.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, that does sound like an industry that lots of people would love to be a part of and that we as viewers would really get to benefit from.
Amy: Yeah, because by telling very specific stories, you actually tell universal stories. I think it's easy to believe that hitting the four quadrants—men, women, age 18 to 44, children—that that's how you get the most people. But I think by being really authentic to you, you can actually capture more people than trying to serve as “a mandate.” That's why Awkward Black Girl hit so many people—because it was authentic to its key creator and then you find your tribe. So that's what it's about.
Dr. Joy: One of your most recent endeavors is podcasting. You have kind of stepped into the podcasting space with your co-host Grace Edwards. You all host the podcast The Antidote. Tell me about what it has been like trying out a new medium.
Amy: Co-hosting The Antidote has been awesome. Grace, we were friendly before Insecure but we really became like work wives on Insecure and had each other's backs, and just like we're really, really close. As Insecure was ending, we saw the light at the end of the tunnel and we were like, ah, we won't get to work together again, what happens now? Like how do we find a way to stay connected in a professional sense? We landed on podcasting because we really wanted something that was regular that could keep us in contact kind of on a weekly basis. And also because just development of a podcast moves faster than development of a TV show or a movie. So we were like, we can actually control this. We can say we want to make it and we're making it tomorrow.
The idea for The Antidote just came from like everything was going wrong last year and we were like, what's our antidote for this? What's our antidote to this bad news that we're talking about on the phone? We'd be spiraling for like 20 minutes on the phone and be like, I need an antidote to this. And then we were like, is that the podcast? Because the world just keeps getting worse week to week to week, so is the podcast finding ways to cope with that? And in so many ways, Grace is my antidote and I know I am hers. So getting to collaborate on this podcast and get to be each other's antidotes week to week while also empowering people to discover their own, has been really exciting. We really just set out to be funny, to feel connected and to help our guests feel healed and like they're not alone, and I think we're achieving that. I'm really excited about the guests we've had, from Tracee Ellis Ross to Yassir Lester, to Robin Thede. ALOK is coming up soon. And Tunde Oyeneyin who's one of the best Peloton instructors of all time, and she's Nigerian so she’s fam. Like our guests are popping. Grace and I have such wonderful energy together that I am so happy about what we've created and I hope that people are latching on and finding their antidotes right along with us.
Dr. Joy: I love that. So you all had the idea for a podcast and then the name of it came to you as you continued to talk?
Amy: It was more like we had the idea of a show. We were like is there a show around having antidotes? I think that was the order. It was like was there a show, and we were like how will we ever get this made? And then we were like, let's make it a podcast. So I think we had the idea if I'm not mistaken, we were coming up with show ideas and then sort of like back channeled into podcasts because we were like, that's something that we can control. Whereas TV, you know, I'm always going back... I'm a control freak and so I'm always going back to, what can I control? What can I control? What can I control? And I can't control the script-to-screen pipeline, but a podcast is a little easier to control.
Dr. Joy: Do you think you might ever toy with the idea of a fictional kind of a podcast?
Amy: There's such an emphasis now in this industry on IP, like having IP before selling a show or something and I love the idea of a podcast serving as IP. I will say because podcasts are really hard to make (they are a lot of work to make), part of me is like let me write a short story and make that my IP because it will just be easier. But I do love a scripted podcast. I really enjoyed Fruit which was Issa’s podcast that she produced. And obviously, you know, Homecoming that was on Amazon, that was a scripted podcast first. So I think I'm more in the market as a producer of looking for scripted podcasts that could be the IP that becomes a show. I'm really interested in that right now as opposed to creating my own.
Dr. Joy: Where can we stay connected with you, Amy, so we’ll know when all of these shows are coming out and what you're up to next? What's your website as well as any social media handles you'd like to share?
Amy: Everything is my name. AmyAniobi on Instagram, Twitter and the web. AmyAniobi.com and @AmyAniobi on everything. And also my company is called Super Special. The idea of the name comes from it's the opposite of superficial. Superficial is what people think of Hollywood as but we're the opposite of that. We are genuine, we are fully ourselves and it makes us special. You can find my company @SuperSpecial on Twitter and Instagram and then the website is www.BeSuperSpecial.com I will just also add, and if you are interested in the TRIBE Writing Program, information can be found on our Instagram which is @SuperSpecial and also on the website www.BeSuperSpecial.com/Tribe.
Dr. Joy: We’ll be sure to include all of that in the show notes so that nobody misses any of those links.
Amy: Thank you.
Dr. Joy: We do have a little game we want to play if you have time.
Amy: Oh, shoot. Yeah, let's do it. I want to play.
Dr. Joy: This is a quick “who said what now” game from Insecure, so from some of the famous lines from Insecure. We're gonna read it and then you tell us who said it.
Amy: Okay. Let's see how I do. I didn’t start from the beginning but it all blends together after a while, so Lord help me. I hope I do a good job.
Dr. Joy: The first one is: Oh, so now y’all wanna be woke when a bitch been an alarm clock since Day 1? Well, beep, beep.
Dr. Joy: That was Issa.
Amy: I was like that's gotta be Issa.
Dr. Joy: The second one is: No, we've given white people enough time.
Dr. Joy: That was Frieda, look at you! Number three: Radio Shack ain't even got a store no more.
Dr. Joy: That was Kelli. And the final one: Yes! A Capri-Sun! You know my heart.
Amy: Okay, yes, a Capri-Sun... Molly. That's gotta be Molly.
Dr. Joy: It was.
Amy: Okay, great. Okay, good, good, good, good, good.
Dr. Joy: Perfect, you scored a perfect 100.
Amy: If I missed anything, I’d be like where was I? I was daydreaming in the writers' room. No, no, no. I'm so happy.
Dr. Joy: Oh my gosh, thank you so much, Amy. This has been such a pleasure. I really appreciate you chatting with us.
Amy: Thank you. This is awesome. I so stand everything that you are doing, I am such a supporter of Therapy for Black Girls. I actually found my therapist on TherapyForBlackGirls.com, so I am such a supporter. We all deserve care, self-care, mental health check-ins, so thank you for everything you're doing to spread that across our community.
Dr. Joy: I appreciate it. I'm so glad Amy was able to share her expertise with us today. To learn more about her and her work, visit the show notes at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session274. And don't forget to text two of your girls and tell them to check out the episode right now. If you're looking for a therapist in your area, check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory.
And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. This episode was produced by Fredia Lucas and Ellice Ellis, and editing was done by Dennison Bradford. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.