JI: How do you feel about gentrification right now?
IR: In Leimert Park and the Crenshaw area, I’ve seen city officials prioritizing black-owned businesses and black industries. I live in Inglewood now, and I don’t see the same care being taken. There’s such fervor to buy property, and you’re hearing from residents who are like, “I don’t know where I’m going to go”—who are disheartened and devastated. And you’re hearing property buyers saying, “People need to work harder so that they can afford to live in these spaces.”
JI: Your father is an immigrant, right?
IR: He is.
JI: I’m an immigrant myself, my parents are immigrants, and when I decided to go into writing, I got a lot of grief from them. Were your parents supportive, or did they push you to become a lawyer or a doctor?
IR: My dad is a doctor, and self-made in so many ways. I went to a high school for medicine, where we worked in hospitals and delivered babies. I’m glad I experienced that, because I could have wasted so much time on it in college. When I said, “Dad, I don’t want to be a doctor,” he said, “Oh, that’s okay, there’s law school, there’s business school. It’s no problem!” At that time I did want to pursue acting and writing and directing, but he would remind me that education was most important. My second year of college, when I was pursuing political science and I had to declare the major and answer the question “Why do you want to pursue political science?,” all I could think of was Because my dad wants me to. That was a wake-up call: He’s not living my life, I am! When ABC picked up my pilot and I hit the family group chat with “Hey! I have this opportunity with Shonda Rhimes! They’re developing my pilot!,” he was like, “That’s great, but grad school? What’s the word on that?”
JI: What do you think about the phenomenon of “blerds,” and the evolution of the black nerd from, say, Steve Urkel to your character?
IR: I never identified my character as nerdy, because the classic cultural nerd—the gamer, the Star Wars or sci-fi or Lord of the Rings geek—just never interested me. I never identified as a nerd in that way. I like comic books; I guess that’s the closest thing.
JI: That’s pretty nerdy!
IR: [Laughs] Um, excuse me! I guess to a degree. But [I’m more interested in] the quirk that African Americans were not allowed to have on-screen. You were either the extreme pretty girl or the nerd; there was no in-between. I was interested in the in-between. There are so many different types that are representative of black people, from the nerd to the quirky to the cool.
JI: And now you’ve gone from Awkward Black Girl to a contract with CoverGirl.
IR: Just being approached to do that was out of this world.
JI: Why’s that?
IR: As someone who didn’t identify as conventionally attractive, it’s a huge boost. I know we shouldn’t look to makeup companies for confidence, but it’s just fucking cool! Twelve-year-old me would never have dreamed that women would look to me as an example to buy makeup! It sounds funny to say out loud.