‘Insecure’ star, alumna talks stereotyping at Black Student Union event

A fan meets Yvonne Orji, the one of the stars of HBO's Insecure, at a screening hosted by the Black Student Union. Anne McBride | Hatchet Staff Photographer
A fan meets Yvonne Orji, the one of the stars of HBO’s Insecure, at a screening hosted by the Black Student Union. Anne McBride | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Updated: Nov. 15, 2016 at 2:37 p.m.

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Giuliana Centofanti.

The Black Student Union hosted a star of HBO’s series “Insecure” and alumna Yvonne Orji Monday night. About 150 students gathered in the Marvin Center for a screening of the show and a question and answer session with Orji.

Orji, a Nigerian-American actress, comedian and writer, earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in public health at GW before deciding to pursue comedy instead of going to medical school.

“Insecure,” which premiered in October, has been praised for highlighting black women’s experiences. Orji plays Molly, a high-powered lawyer and the best friend of creator Issa Rae’s character.

Orji covered a variety of topics including stereotypes, education and playing vulnerable characters during Monday night’s event. Here are some of the night’s highlights:

1. Stereotypes

Orji said “Insecure” moves past stereotypes to offer a more realistic portrayal of black women.

“It’s introducing me to a new type of black, I think that’s one thing the show’s very honest about, everybody’s experience is not the same, everybody has a different relation to what it means to be black and there’s no wrong or right answer,” Orji said.

Orji also answered questions about code-switching, citing it as a tool black people use to climb to the top. Orji’s character is able to adapt from being a “hood rat” to working in a mostly white law firm through code-switching and having a “double consciousness,” she said.

“White people are just able to be white wherever because they’re the majority, but black people, in order to get ahead, to make other people feel safer in their own environments, it’s that thing you have to do in order to survive,” Orji said.

“Insecure” doesn’t have “to try to be the catch-all,” because black women play different types of characters on other TV shows, Orji said.

“The freedom now to have a show that allows us just to be regular. We’re not superheroes, we’re not Olivia Pope-ing it, we’re imperfect, and that’s freeing to see on TV,” she said.

2. Education

In response to a question about whether actresses should go to college to have a back-up plan, Orji said her education in sociology and public health has helped her as an actress.

“Nothing’s ever wasted because you need everything,” Orji said.

Orji took a marketing class in college that she said helped her to be aggressive and persuasive in Hollywood.

“I do know friends who all their degrees are acting, that’s not a bad thing, however, I personally would like to do that marketing, do that other thing because you need so much more,” Orji said. “Talent takes you only but so far. It takes savvy.”

3. Insecurity

The show’s title, “Insecure,” is a statement in and of itself: In the past, TV shows have portrayed black women as strong characters, even though that’s not always realistic, Orji said.

Orji said she’s learned to deal with being black in a majority white environment, which has forced her to deal with some of her own insecurities.

“For me it was a thing of ‘I have to be around different people in life, so let me learn now how they think, how I can function around them, how I can still be myself and teach them a couple things,’” Orji said. “I think you just have to realize that everyone’s different and in our differences what is that thing that makes us the most similar?”

Orji also had some dating advice for an audience member who asked if black women set their standards too high.

“I don’t know what ‘too high’ means,” Orji said.

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