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Why Leilani From The Lovebirds Looks So Familiar

In our current day and age, streaming services are more popular than ever — and some of movies originally slated for theatrical launches are getting the chance to stream from home. One such movie is The Lovebirds, a romantic comedy that hit Netflix on May 22, 2020. Directed by Michael Showalter (known for films like Wet Hot American Summer and The Big Sick), The Lovebirds stars upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe inductee Kumail Nanjiani and comedian-actress Issa Rae as Jibran and Leilani, a blissfully happy couple who end up on an unexpected adventure after they inadvertently get involved in a hit-and-run. They two must solve a mystery while attempting to keep their relationship intact.

If you feel like you've seen the actress who plays Leilani before, that's not surprising. Issa Rae has built a solid career throughout the past couple of years — from hit HBO comedy shows to other big Hollywood romantic comedies. Here's why she looks so familiar.

How Issa Rae got her start in Hollywood

Rae, who is of Senegalese descent and whose full name is Jo-Issa Rae Diop, grew up in Maryland. After attending Stanford University, she moved to New York City to pursue performance on a full-time basis (via The New York Times). In 2011, she made a splash with her original YouTube series The MisAdventures of Awkward Black Girl, which cast Rae as the lead character J and followed her social, professional, and romantic foibles as she made her way through the modern world as a young black woman. Not long after its debut, Awkward Black Girl won a Shorty Award for Best Web Series in 2012. Ultimately, the show ran for two seasons.

By using dream sequences and narration to express J's constantly running inner monologue and by tackling issues familiar to black women across the country, Rae began to find her groove as a writer, actor, and creator. Soon, Awkward Black Girl would lead to her biggest opportunity yet.

Issa Rae is anything but Insecure

After the success of Awkward Black Girl, Rae started working with Larry Wilmore — a frequent contributor to The Daily Show and longtime writer on The Office – to develop her own pilot, entitled Insecure. Luckily, HBO swooped in and picked up the pilot and greenlit production, giving Rae the opportunity of a lifetime.

Insecure stars Rae as Issa Dee, a relatively directionless young black woman living and struggling in Los Angeles alongside her best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji), their other Stanford friends, and Issa and Molly's myriad boyfriends, who include Issa's longtime partner Lawrence (Jay Ellis). As Rae told The Los Angeles Times before the series' first season premiered, the creative team behind Insecure wanted to show a different picture of young black women in a big city: "We're just trying to convey that people of color are relatable. This is not a hood story. This is about regular people living life."

Thanks to stars like Solange Knowles working behind the scenes as the show's music coordinator; guest stars like Lil Rey Howery, Sterling K. Brown, and Regina Hall; and excellent writing and anchoring performances from Orji and Rae, Insecure has become a huge hit for HBO, earning Golden Globe and Emmy nominations.

Issa Rae's movie career is taking off

You wouldn't think that Rae would have time to star in multiple films between shooting and writing Insecure, penning her New York Times bestselling memoir The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, and providing a voice for Google Assistant, but she has indeed appeared in plenty of big-screen projects — with even more on the horizon.

In 2018, Rae got her first big break on the big screen with The Hate U Give, a drama about a young high school student witnessing a shooting, alongside Insecure guest star Regina Hall and The Hunger Games' Amandla Stenberg. One year later, she appeared in a supporting role in Little, in which a high-flying businesswoman (Regina Hall, once again) is transformed into herself as a child (Marsai Martin, who also wrote the film). Rae also lent her voice to the 2019 animated short film Hair Love, which won Best Animated Short Film at the 2020 Academy Awards.

Aside from The Lovebirds, Rae appeared in another romantic comedy in 2020 that hit theaters on Valentine's Day: The Photograph, alongside Knives Out and Get Out star Lakeith Stanfield, about a woman named Mae (Rae) who falls for Michael (Stanfield), the journalist writing a story about her late mother's life. Rae also has a high-profile project on the horizon thanks to writer and director B.J. Novak. His directorial debut Vengeance, a horror-thriller, stars Rae, Novak himself, Ashton Kutcher, Boyd Holbrook, and more. Though the movie began filming in March 2020, production is on pause due to COVID-19.