When Amy Aniobi watched the first episode of “The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl” as a young college graduate, she felt seen.
“This is me! I do this!” Aniobi exclaimed. “I don’t know how to talk to people in the hallway. I am the person who says goodbye to someone and walks the same direction they’re going. I am this idiot!”
Now, Aniobi, 37, is on the cusp of her 10-year anniversary as a screenwriter. She ran the “Awkward Black Girl” writers room in 2011, writing Season 1, Episode 6, titled “The Stapler.” A decade later, she is still collaborating with Issa Rae, working as a co-executive producer of “Insecure” and directing her first episode of the series, which airs Sunday.
With credits on the HBO special “2 Dope Queens” and the comedy “Silicon Valley,” Aniobi is launching her own production company and laying down a foundation for budding storytellers to create genuine, real stories about everyday people.
“I feel like I was put here to build bridges to future storytellers, like that is my purpose in life,” Aniobi said. “When I got into [writing], I didn’t quite understand that it was a job. I remember English teachers all through college would say, ‘You should be a writer,’ and I said, ’Yeah, I mean sure, but what am I gonna do for money?”
While Aniobi dabbled in poetry and plays, her introduction to writing was unconventional. She and her brothers would create fake commercials for products and perform them for their parents, the most notable product being a bootleg Axe Deodorant Body Spray called “Aggression.”
As an undergraduate student at Stanford University, Aniobi described herself as “artsy weirdo” surrounded by aspiring tech founders and engineering wizards. Aniobi recalled that “the man who invented Instagram,” Kevin Systrom, lived down the hall from her freshman year. Immersing herself in dance, music and film courses, Aniobi took a wide assortment of classes in school, ultimately majoring in American studies.
Aniobi graduated in 2006, while Issa Rae was in the class of 2007. Aniobi can’t recall meeting Rae on campus, but she knew who she was, considering the size of Stanford’s Black student community and Rae’s prominence in the Black theater community.
What united them was screenwriter Tracy Oliver. Oliver played resident mean girl and co-worker Nina in “The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl” series and is the writer of the film “Girls’ Trip,” BET’s “First Wives Club” and the upcoming Amazon Prime series “Harlem.”
“Tracy was my little sib at Stanford,” Aniobi said. “After graduation, we just clicked. Even at Stanford, we were friendlier than most of those relationships are. She would call me every now and then and be like, ‘Hey, I know you’re not my big anymore. But I wanted to run something by you. I’m thinking of film school, but it’s so expensive.’”
Aniobi told Oliver she should apply to the University of Southern California. At that moment, something clicked.
“I remember having that conversation with her and then being like, ‘Damn, why am I not going to film school?’” Aniobi said. “Then I realized I had studied American studies, which is culture. I want to have a conversation with the culture. That is what I want to do.”
So Aniobi applied to the University of California, Los Angeles, which she ultimately attended from 2009 to 2011. Her Nigerian parents didn’t quite get it at first, but her mother always wanted Aniobi to go back to school and get a master’s degree.
Aniobi said her father told his friends his daughter was getting a “master’s of entertainment and television science,” tacking on science as any typical Nigerian dad would.
“It was a lot of recalibrating their instincts,” Aniobi said. “They didn’t understand what I was up to, but they always loved and supported me. They were always like, ‘OK, that’s the path you’re going on. We support it, just do the best at that.’”
“What ‘Insecure’ means is the permission to contain multitudes. … It’s the permission to be exactly who you are as a Black woman walking through the world. It just validates the experience of a Black girl who likes both hip-hop, rap and Black American culture and also can live in the awkward ‘I don’t fit in here’ space.”
– Amy Aniobi, executive producer of “Insecure”
Upon taking the leap and moving to Los Angeles, months later, Oliver reached out to Aniobi. Oliver told her that she and Rae had launched a web series and were looking to hire writers. After watching the first episode, Aniobi knew she would be joining something special. On Wednesday nights, they ran the four-person writers room out of her apartment.
“It’s just staying in touch with someone that I just loved as a person. Even when we met, neither of us were involved in writing or producing or anything. We were just two Black girls at Stanford who liked each other,” Aniobi said of her friendship with Oliver. “Writing Episode 501 [of ‘Insecure’], which took place at Stanford, it was almost this love letter to how [Issa and I] met because, had it not been for Stanford, we never would have met.”
LA presented multiple opportunities for Aniobi — namely, the chance to be one of the first 50 employees at Twitter. On the very day she arrived in the city, she received an email from a recruiter. Her freshman dormmate Systrom had passed her name off to a headhunter at the company, and she was offered an interview to join their marketing team.
“The fact of the matter is you make the best decision you can at the moment you’re making it. The job that I actually ended up turning down Twitter for helped me learn a lot about television, TV structure, and made me a better student of my current field. I could have been a billionaire, but also I probably would have been miserable moving back to San Francisco,” Aniobi said with a laugh.
Since its premiere in 2016, Aniobi has been a producer on “Insecure” and has even appeared in brief cameos (in Season 4, Episode 2 and Season 5, Episode 1). Being a part of the series has taught her not to put borders around her dreams and that her aspirations are possible. Apart from being everyone’s favorite flutist on the show, directing had always been a desire of hers.
In Sunday’s episode, her vision shines; Aniobi worked in collaboration with the show’s costume designer Shiona Turini to ensure that every article of clothing on every cast member was from a Black-owned label. Moreover, “Insecure” has taught her that her voice is valid. After navigating so many white spaces prior to working on the show, Aniobi had to teach herself to stop shrinking.
“I’m a dark-skinned Black woman, child of Nigerian immigrants. There are a lot of Nigerians in Hollywood now, but growing up, I didn’t know that and I didn’t see it,” Aniobi said. “Working on a show led by a woman who has a very similar background — Issa is part Senegalese and is dark-skinned like me — and seeing her command spaces has led me to realize even more so that my voice is valid.”
“What ‘Insecure’ means is the permission to contain multitudes. I feel like that is what it is. It’s the permission to be exactly who you are as a Black woman walking through the world,” she said. “It just validates the experience of a Black girl who likes both hip-hop, rap and Black American culture and also can live in the awkward ‘I don’t fit in here’ space. Both of those experiences can exist in one person, and they’ve just been me.”
In November, it was announced that Aniobi is launching her own production company called SuperSpecial. The name stems from a screenplay she wrote years ago that features a branding company of the same name, composed of very regular people who aspired to be incredibly special.
Aniobi said that she used to perceive her sensitive, emotional nature as her fatal flaw as a comedy writer, but now, she leans into it.
“I liked the idea that this is a genuine home for storytellers, a place for genuine stories about real people,” she said. “This is showing that people across all genders, creeds, races, religions, physical abilities, skin colors, everything, have genuine humanity.”
She said that working on “Insecure,” a show that has proven it can be successful by decentering whiteness, gave her the push to create SuperSpecial. Her hope is that by sharing narratives outside of straight, cisgender, white male experiences, entertainment can impact others.
“What are we here for if we can’t write about our humanity and make people believe that we deserve to be here? We can’t change the world, but can we change a few minds? That’s what entertainment does. We’re not doctors in the ER room saving a life, but in some small ways, we are saving lives. I want to keep doing that.”
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