Written By @Cabbagepatchrgrl
“It should literally be kind of like a movement. And it should be a way of being,” Insecure’s star Yvonne Orji said of diversity in the Entertainment industry, during the :BLACKPRINT #NoFilter Instagram live series.
She recently joined PEOPLE’s Paula Ngon on the Instagram series to discuss her road to success and the complexities of the black experience.
“How I first got into entertainment was through comedy, and I didn’t know that I could even do comedy. I didn’t really know that you could make a living telling jokes. I used to watch Def Comedy Jam growing up on HBO, which is hysterical because I have an HBO comedy special,” she told Ngon.
The 36-year-old actress got the hang of comedy unexpectedly back in 2006 when her brother asked if she wanted to join the Miss Nigeria in America pageant. “I just was like, ‘My talents are making straight A’s, can I do that on stage? Because that is where I am in my life,” said Orji.
“I was praying like, ‘God, you got to come through for me. What can I do? I can’t sing, I can’t play the piano… What’s popping?'” she said. “And I heard the Holy Spirit say, ‘Do comedy.’ And I was like, ‘Nah son. Stop, what are you talking about?’ And he was just like, ‘Well, what else you got?'”
After leaving the crowd laughing at the pageant and winning another competition shortly afterward, Orji kicked off her comedy career. Fast forward to now, Orji has successfully turned her skills and love of comedy into a successful career as a comedian and actress. She first moved to New York to try her hand in the industry, before she eventually moved to Los Angeles and met Issa Rae, the star and creator of Awkward Black Girl and HBO’s Insecure. That’s where her Hollywood journey began.
As a lead actress on the Emmy-nominated Insecure, she recognized the show’s gravity as it simply shows the humanity, nuance, and “homage to Black culture, to Black people, to South L.A., just a culture” – on and off – screen.
“There’s no way you can tell a really coherent and cohesive story with just a fraction of representation across the board,” she said. “Not just on-screen, not just in the writer’s room — in hair and makeup, in the sound department, in editing, in coloring. … It can’t just be, ‘Oh, we had a bunch of Black actors.’ It’s like, ‘No, we are a support system,” said Orji.
The comedian, who also pays homage to Black culture and her Nigerian roots in her stand-up special debut, Momma, I Made It!, added that having this kind of support allows Black people and fellow members of the Insecure team, in particular, to tell compelling stories unapologetically.
“I feel like diversity should not just be a buzzword. Diversity shouldn’t be a check to just be like, ‘Yeah, we got a Black person. Oh, we got an Asian person. Oh, we got that'” she explained, adding that the push for diversity should be a “movement.”
“It should literally be kind of like a movement. And it should be a way of being, really. Because diverse stories are the best when they are told most authentically,” she said.
“That’s what diversity really should be. It’s like, I shouldn’t have to defend my Blackness. I should just show up and be able to be my Blackness,” she said.