Season two of HBO's Insecure has seen Issa Rae’s hit series really glow up. The aftermath of Issa (Issa Rae) and Lawrence’s (Jay Ellis) split is proving to be better than anything we witnessed while the two of them were still trying to make things work in Issa’s lackluster apartment. But Insecure has never been just about relationships. It’s an ode to the richness that is trying to figure out life as a Black millennial. Case in point: One of the most interesting storylines this season has been the journey of Issa’s best friend Molly, excellently portrayed by actress Yvonne Orji. She spent the first half of the sophomore season single and celibate, focusing on her own emotional ticks and getting ahead in her career as a lawyer. With their exploration of the stress that many Black women experience trying to have their proverbial shit together, Insecure made me feel personally attacked. Luckily, I’m not the only one.
I (and by chance, a couple of my giddy homegirls) had the pleasure of speaking with Orji about this conundrum — and a possible solution. Orji is one of the speakers at this year’s Create & Cultivate conference in Seattle, Washington. Create & Cultivate was founded by Jaclyn Johnson and is the preeminent conference and online platform for women looking to, you guessed it, create and cultivate the career of their dreams. They host conferences nationwide where thousands of women gather to hear from the best in the business ranging from CEOs, content creators and celebrities. Past speakers include Chelsea Handler, Nicole Richie, Jessica Alba, Gloria Steinem and more. This year they are partnering with Microsoft, The Mine, Sorel, and Express with keynotes from Mandy Moore and Orji’s co-star, Issa Rae.
Orji’s involvement with the upcoming conference stemmed from wanting to support what she saw as a meeting of female “bosses” to create a meaningful dialogue. She shared, “I feel like, at this point in life, we need roundtable discussions — more people coming and Solange-ing it, having a seat at the table, discussing, and being open to share ideas in a way that's constructive.” I couldn’t help but think about how useful an event like this would be to Molly and her friends, a group that is keenly aware of the moors that govern what success should look like for them as millennial women. But what about Orji herself? Has she felt the same pressure to have it all together as well?
The short answer is yes. Orji, who is Nigerian American, was raised with very high expectations. “The bar is set very high,” she explained, “and by the grace of god, our parents give us the tools to meet those expectations.” And even though her decision to become an actress has been met with confusion and concern from those who prefer a more secure career path, Orji works extremely hard at it thanks to the cultural ethics instilled in her. We get to bask in the result of it every Sunday.
In the same way that Insecure refuses to be homogenous, Orji’s wins don’t result from a singular source, either. As our conversation evolved into a hilariously candid one about her background, aspirations, and personal journey, two things were pretty clear to me about Orji. First, she is firmly invested in the idea that she is here for a greater purpose. Fun fact: she was born with her mother’s IUD in her hand. Yes, really. So when she told me, “I know I'm not just here by happenstance,” I believed her. And second, that she didn’t make it alone.
A sure highlight of our chat was Orji’s description of her friend groups. She has her O.G. friends that bask in her accomplishments because they knew her when she was borrowing $5 for gas to make it from point A to point B. She has a group of friends that she calls Garden Girls who join her at church and in prayer. Then there’s the “West African Voltron” that includes Luvvie Ajayi, Cynthia Erivo, and Bozoma Saint John. Like Orji’s life, none of these circles seem to exist by happenstance, either. She intentionally built a community, a wall of female support around her, and that is a skill that we can all stand to cultivate.
As much as I enjoyed getting a healthy dose of what I henceforth call ‘Yvonnisms,’ I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to see how she feels about the important issues: Insecure’s love triangles. When asked to pick sides between the former couple in the center of the show, Orji is obviously Team Issa. Take that, #Lawrencehive. She decided to take the politically correct route by supporting both Issa and a very controversial Tasha (Dominique Perry). But I was able to stump Orji when I asked her to choose between Dro (Molly’s childhood friend who is now a very sexy but married suitor of hers, played by Sarunas J. Jackson) and Lionel (a predictably stable bachelor who is ready to settle down, played by Sterling K. Brown). She laughed, “You got me! This is Yvonne speaking?” I respond that I know better than to ask Molly that because she doesn’t know. “#MollyDontKnow! As Yvonne, I'm ready to meet my version of Lionel, so I have to be Team Lionel. That just sounds like wisdom crying out. That just sounds like ‘we might be married by the end of the year.’”
And even though I’m more of a Dro girl with a Lionel rising, I commit to saying an affirmation that Orji’s wisdom manifests.