Maurice Marable was the director for the “Backwards-Like” episode on HBO’s Insecure. He talks about the themes and topics implemented in this episode about the characters Issa and Daniel.
ATM: In relation to your episode, what’s being a man?
MM: There are strengths, and there are weaknesses. He thought his strengths were standing up for his art. On one level when it comes to his music, it is finding a way to believe in himself. And trying to find a way that there is going to be something for him out there musically and that he is going to make it. He is flawed, so I do not want to say this is the definition of a man. As a person, his insecurities take over. His lack of awareness takes over. His idea of being at fault on others takes over. It is hard for me to relate to this aspect of being a man and being someone who needs more self-awareness and needs help to figure out things for himself.
It is so funny because I am married and have a daughter. Being a man in the tradition that I raised in was taking responsibility for yourself and your actions. Being a man was protecting people that you loved. Being a man was not being afraid to admit mistakes. I think men, in general, have some flaws because of the way the world has raised men. Some of these flaws come out in the idea that men are more valuable, which is crazy. Men are de facto leaders no matter what. Also, men do not trust. Not just the old cliché of women but they do not trust each other. And that it is all about them and that they should be allowed to dictate terms. This is so not real. This does not mean people do or act like this. We all know people like this. We have a president. This should be a definition of a man.
ATM: How does this definition of a man help you to understand the definition of a woman on this show?
MM: When I think about characters, I try to define them based on the circumstances in the background of that individual and what their challenge or issues are. There are certain nuisances, of course, I go yeah, I know the things. Sometimes I do not want to make men one thing. I try to be open and try not to judge. If there is a character that is F-ed up, then I am not going to judge this character. I am going to show that they are F-ed.
For me being a man, I am sensitive on both sides on how men get portrayed and how they represent themselves to others. On both sides good and bad. I try to be honest about this. And do not take one away from the other. I would be a disservice if I made all men good or all men bad. Whether it is the right thing to say or not, when people are flawed and doing the wrong thing, they were raised with the wrong thing. The world has shown them that doing the wrong thing works. This is the part I have go on that is real and have to lean in on this. My personal values sometimes do not always filter in. I try to embody the character I am dealing with.
ATM: Is this show any closer to the modern day dating world?
MM: I have been married way too long. I have KIDS (Laughs). I am definitely not this dude either. I have a son who is a young man, and I have friends. On a real real, like on a real real level, I find it crazy. It is different. I grew up where you had to talk to somebody. You had to say hello and meet somebody’s mama. Nowadays there are apps, and folks are dismissive. Like, “Ahh it did not work out. Boom.” People break up with people through text messages. I am like “Why.”
ATM: You were once in your early 20s or a young adult, what does this show say about adults?
MM: Life is always evolving. I think the cycle of growth is always the same. When you are in your early 20s, and you are trying to discover the world and figure yourself out, and you are learning hard lessons and beautiful lessons, this does not change from generation to generation. I can relate to being broke and wanting more. Hanging out with my friends and thinking I am in love. “But what am I really in love with or about? Do I even know this person? Am I self-absorbed? Am I taking this person for granted? Is this person taking me for granted? Am I in a relationship? Or do I think I am in a relationship and this person is not and think we are together?” Vice versa. It is all this, but it does not change. How we emotional grow is the same with every generation. I do think some older people are cooler. When I was in my 20s, I thought 40s were old.
ATM: What do you believe is the difference between male to male friendships vs. female to female friendships?
MM: Issa has her crew. In all friendships and crews people play different roles in your life. There is not one friend who does it all. There is your friend you can tell “x” to. There is your friend you can tell “that” to. There is one friend you cannot say anything to because you may respect them differently and do not want them to judge you. I believe our friends help to make up one whole relationship.
In the show, she’s got a real core of girlfriends who do not always see eye to eye. They love each other, and they know that. They have arguments, fights, and disagreements, but the bond is real. This is not a show about Daniel’s life.
This is a show about Issa. What we see of Daniel is a just small window. He is not hanging out with other cats. He does not seem to have any close male relationships on a real level. This also may contribute to his issues. Who is there to school or check him or give him support? He puts a lot of this on Issa. One point she is my friend, or my buddy. The next thing he likes her and let’s do this. Then, now I am going to disrespect her. Every time you hear about him, it is about sleeping with another woman. His relationship with the producer obviously did not work out. This is it another form of masculinity where it is like, “I am the man. No, I am the man.” The alpha is supposed to win. There was no need to play alpha.
ATM: This cost him his chance and opportunity. Daniel does not listen to Khalil and instead does what he wants. Beggars cannot be a chooser. He is not at a place in his life where he can have the flexibility where he can choose to do this.
MM: The ego has been passed around for years. The male ego and the idea of this insecurity of getting played. This man thinks he is stronger than me or better than me. Or I cannot let him own me. It is not about being submissive, but it is about understanding where you are and not getting ahead of yourself. And being open to the idea of being led. This is a problem with him in general.
ATM: How did you want to show Issa’s vulnerability while she was at this low point in her life?
MM: The Issa character is honest. Even when she is trying to play it off, she cannot do it well. We see her life right in front of her. We know that she felt this security in Daniel and she has felt this for years. Not in the best and healthiest ways. It is familiar. All of us tend to fall into things that are familiar and not see the problems in it. She was at a place where she felt unmotivated at work. She was not in a relationship, and she was sleeping on someone’s couch. It does not look bright at the moment. I saw that this character was lost. For me as a director, how do I visually show this? In this episode, she wakes up in the morning, and we realize she is in bed with Daniel. But they do not have sex. What I love about her, in general, is that she lets us in on what and how she is feeling. The fantasy of it all. She lets us in, but it does not mean she makes this choice in reality.
This is how Issa displays the conflict of choice. In this episode, she is going to have to make a choice. It was a thing for her but also Molly. They are both in different but similar situations. Issa is on the verge of ending a job of employment. Molly is starting employment. Molly has what she asked for, but it is not working out. Issa’s character does not have what she asked for and is searching for it. And to think she might have it in Daniel. Deep down inside she knows, and her girls know this is not the best move. It took Daniel showing himself again that showed she needed to stop making the same, not good choices.
ATM: How do you show a distinction when you direct in general? Your style?
MM: It is so funny because I am like, “What is my style?” I do what I love. What I love is trying in truth whether it is in comedy or drama. Even in the comedy that I do, people probably think they are a little more dramatic. The reason is that I have to find the truth. I do not like comedy for comedy sake. I like the truth. I like the idea that a situation is funny because it is coming from a real place. My other style is how I see things through the lens and through the camera. I believe in the psychology of camera work. I believe in how if someone feels lonely, then how do I fill this inside a film.
If you look at the dinner scene with her and Daniel, then you notice there is a moment where it starts with them talking together. You see them in the frame with each other. You see the over the shoulder, which add to the conversation. It starts to build in a negative direction. They are not in the same frame for a while. There is a lot of negative space, and she is in the corner of the frame, and he is not. She is in the corner of his frame. It is a big frame and he is not in it. The only time we come back to this, is when the waiter comes and breaks the attention. You see them again and that they are not happy. It is about how do I separate them at this table when they are sitting right across from each other? How do I separate them, so they are in two different worlds?
ATM: What were you searching for when you were the same age as the characters on the show?
MM: I was searching for validation. I felt like I knew my purpose and I was searching for a pathway to get there. One side of it is validation, meaning the idea that I can do and achieve the things I want to achieve, and people are going to believe I can do this. When you are young, you want what you want. I was a insecure person. Apart of it is arrogance and you have this attitude to keep moving forward. Like, “I am going to do it. I do not care. I am going to do it.” At the same time, you are living a split personality life. You are scared, and you are like, “It is never going to work. I am never going to find anybody.” There is all this back and forth swing.
I remember as small as it seems we all have a warped idea what we were supposed to be. You have this thing about I want to be somebody. Whatever this somebody was in your mind at the time. Whether it was, I want to be fly. For me, “I want to be the best creative person out there” or “I want to be able to pick up the most fly girl.” All of these things were going through my head. At the same time, “I am never going to find nobody. Ain’t nobody ever going to like my stuff.” “Oh Lord, I am going to be broke forever.”
ATM: Of course, at this age, it was hard for you to see the outcome of what you were doing. You could not see the outcome or the destiny of your passion while in the midst.
MM: I was blessed with all my insecurities and all my weird doubts . I was truly blessed. There is this thing out there, especially nowadays where you see people who have millions of dollars by the time they are 25. You are like, “What did I do wrong?” From 25 and under, I was really broke. I did not realize I was broke broke. As long as I had enough money to do the things I wanted to do and hang out with my friends when I needed to, it seemed okay. By the time I was 27 years old, I was working at HBO. I was overseeing a department. It was a creative space. I had already been in the military. I had gone to school and then dropped out. Got out of the military, and then went back to film school in Atlanta. Then I dropped out again.
I ended up working in New York with Spike Lee and others. I took opportunities as they came. It was never planned out. If something showed itself, then I grabbed it and did not think once about it. I did not over analyze it. I was scared at every step. I was still like, “I made the wrong choice. This is not going to work out.” When I got to New York, I was only making a $1000 a month. I was broke. I was eating Ramen Noodles and also not eating. I wanted to be in the biz. I just kept pushing.
This is the beautiful energy that we do not always talk about being in your 20s. This drive. Issa Rae as a person epitomizes this. She just did it. She kept doing it and then she got it.
In hindsight, I look back to all the broke nights and rough days . . . my life was blessed in the sense that I was able to keep moving forward with this attitude that, “I am going to make it happen.”
ATM: So, you conquered the American Dream?
MM: I am not sure about American Dream nowadays. I conquered Mo’s Dream.
ATM: You know the term in which people say “you made it.”
MM: Well it is allusive. The goal post changes with ever goal.
ATM: Outside from the industry that you are in. The American Dream is in the average person’s view as working doing what you love, you do not come home unhappy about what you do, the dream that you had as a child is your reality, and you are well off. In this context, this is what I mean. Most minorities are not able to conquer the American Dream or the idea of it.
MM: That is the truth. It is the thing that keeps me humbled. You are so right. I was looking back and I said, “I am just going to keep working.” Still, today, if I am not on a show or producing a show or doing something, I start to go, “Is it over? I hope I put enough away for the kids?” It does not slow down. I still do not feel comfortable. I feel like people look and like my work. People call me up to do things. I am very blessed for the work I get to do and who I get to work with. It is hard to take for granted when you grew up a minority. I still hang out with my family. I know everybody. I know Poo Poo. I know Carol. Carol got some problems but she cool people. I am always trying to stay open. This is my approach to characters.
ATM: Maurice it could have gone the other way.
MM: Very easily.
ATM: A lot of people do not get the opportunity to have their reality mirror their deep desire.
MM: The other thing is that you do not know what you do not know. No matter what people say, “Why can’t they just make it?” Most people do not know how to get there or are not around it to know that it is possible. It takes two generations to change the course of a family. It takes one generation to say, “I have to do better.” They do better so they can show the next generation what it takes.
My grandparents worked on farms. This is how my dad and my mother got money in high school. They were country. They grew up poor. They had 13 brothers and sisters, both of them. The dad left on both of them. It is this kind of stuff. My pop wanted something more in his life. He went into the military. His thing was that you can truly do what you want to do. “Do not ever let race stop you. I do not care what they do, but you just find a way.” You just kind of find a way. I had that. I had someone that kept telling me. I had someone who instilled in me a value that I am deserving of anything as long as I worked hard for it. Not everyone has this.
ATM: It is good that you do not get comfortable. In context from an average person, they would just say, “Oh he made it.” In your context, it is still that you have to work hard, and it does not stop. A lot of people who get content are too comfortable. This is when they stop working hard.
MM: I am not going to lie, when I was young, I spent every dime that came to me because I thought it was going to happen forever. I was like, “Oh yeah I am going to make this money forever.” Then one day I did not have a job because I am freelancing, and I was broke. Then I was trying to borrow money from people and they said, “I thought you worked?” Here is the other side of it, people think you make a lot of money. I do make more than the average American. I cannot front on this, but this does not mean I can retire. I make a good living. You want a house and now you have a mortgage. There are two cars because you have to go to work and your partner needs to go to work. It starts to add up.
ATM: More money, more problems.
MM: More money, more problems. If I fell down a flight of stairs and could not work for a year, then we would be struggling. It could all end very quickly.