Aida Osman Discusses 'Rap Sh!t' Memories and Challenging Hollywood's Creative Standards

By Desjah Altvater | March 14, 2024

This interview is part of EDITION's "Class of Now" feature, found in our March '24 "Next Wave" Issue. Click here to subscribe.

DSC01961.jpgPhoto by Abdi Ibrahim

As an LGBTQ-identifying Black woman, Aida Osman constantly searched for herself in her home state of Nebraska. Rarely finding her reflection, Osman often got lost in stories to find her safe space. Starting out as a writer on Netflix’s Big Mouth and HBO’s Betty, Osman flexed her creativity enough to join HBO Max’s Rap Sh!t as leading actress Shawna and an executive story editor. The young Osman, who never saw herself represented, is now the one penning TV’s most celebrated shows that others find a haven within.

EDITION recently spoke with Aida Osman to discuss her creative process, Rap Sh!t, and her proudest moment.

Do you remember the first time you saw someone who looked like you on screen?

I'm mad that my answer is [when] I watched The Curse recently. [It's] with Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie, and I keep joking that I'm [the character] Nala, the little Somali girl that put the curse on people. She's the closest I've gotten to representation. A very mad, confused, young, Black girl. Also, on [TV show] Rami, with Rami’s sister and her Black Muslim friend who were really close to [representing] me. I'm never gonna feel represented until I make something myself, to be honest.

How do you navigate your career being a trailblazer and doing things that haven't really been done before?

Not thinking that you're a trailblazer helps. I get to look at my friends and I'm inspired by them. They do music, art, comedy and directing. They don't limit themselves. I'm really fortunate to have a bunch of people in my corner. And, I'm lucky to sit down and collaborate with them because it doesn't feel like working when you have a strong community of people that mean a lot to you. Some of them, I used to be fans of, and now I get to be with them every day. It doesn't feel like trailblazing. It feels like figuring it out every day and then trusting yourself. Some of my trailblazers are Quinta Brunson, Ayo Edebri, and Natasha Rothwell. These women are writers and actresses, and they embody every part of it. It's really miracle work [and] they're miracle workers.

Why is it important for you to not only be onscreen but also oversee the storytelling?

I think people used to get so mad at me. [With] other projects I've been in, people were like, ‘Why don't you want to keep acting?’ And I do, I love acting, but I also love writing. [Writing] was my first love and my first passion, and acting came second. I've been fortunate enough that the time I wrote on a show, I had no expectation of being the star of it.

But it just made the most sense that I portrayed Shawna, the character I portrayed on Rap Sh!t, who was kind of similar to me. It's important for me to create the story because, ultimately, I'm a huge fan of television. It means so much to me. It's how I understand the world. It's how I feel reflected as a woman. I still credit Michaela Coel for helping me heal any sexual assault issues in my life more than any therapist, any doctor, and any person I’ve ever talked to.

She took her pain and infused it with comedy, reality, and damn near sorcery and made it healing. That's my mission and my goal in everything that I make. So, being a fan is the first step. But, once you're a fan, you know what people have done and what's played out. And you know how to make it fresh and new.

I learned that prior to your success, you worked at a bar. People are in such a rush to get to the finish line and don't really enjoy the journey. Is there any lesson that you learned before you became famous that you always keep in the back of your mind?

That it's about the work. It’s not about the outcome of the work. And, that has been the most grounding thing, especially in moments when fear and anxiety creep up. I have no idea what the success rate of my project is going to be. I watched it happen with the first show I wrote on, Big Mouth. I watched it happen with my show that just got canceled, Rap Sh!t.

Sometimes you have an idea of what success is going to look like and then you get there and it changes. Or, you get there and it doesn't feel the same way that you thought it would feel, so now you have to find the beauty in something else. That's what led me to believe it's about the work. It's literally just about showing up every day. Trying to do better in every moment, and then whatever comes from that is beautiful. If you have good intentions every day, then you can only make the best thing. But, I just try not to watch the finish line. I just try to watch what's right in front of me.

How did being a part of Rap Sh!t change your life?

It was such a fun show. I can't point to another show that had a black woman in the cast positions of one, two, and three: me, KaMillion, and Jonica Booth. It's so rare. Every moment I had with them, going into their trailer, talking to them, just little moments I could steal with those women, were always so affirming and inspiring. And, fun as hell.

There was a moment where I was joking with one of the producers, Jim. He asked me what I needed, and I told him how I wanted some cupcakes with little Rolexes on top of every single one. Because that's what I needed that day - six Rolexes. And, the next day he brought cupcakes with pictures of little Rolexes stuck on top. It was a sweet moment.

My favorite memory of the show, hands down, is writing episode 106 with Kid Fury. I grew up listening to The Read [and] it changed my life because I was trying to find myself and explore my identity in a place where there weren't a lot of Black, queer people. In Nebraska, there were Black people, there were refugees, there were African people, I can't lie. Lincoln was a savior city, so a lot of refugees lived there. But it's still a conservative state, so queerness is not celebrated, it’s not talked about. I do recall there was one gay bar, and that sh-t got burned down in 2018 [due to] homophobia.

Listening to The Read just made me feel so connected to myself and who I was and who I wanted to be. Kid Fury is so funny, sharp, honest about his emotions and irritated, just like me. When he got hired for the show and then we got paired to write an episode together, we just connected and wrote an episode that I'm really proud of. I feel excited that the world gets to see it for years and years.

DSC01862.jpgPhoto by Abdi Ibrahim

How do you incorporate self-care in your hectic schedule?

I think we're in an era where everyone boasts [about] self-care. People sit down, do their morning pages and take a bath, but are still thinking about work. You're still thinking about this project. You're still thinking about something you should've said to someone, how you could've networked, whatever. It's not about that. Even if I take five minutes in my car to breathe, as long as the quality of my rest is high, I feel a lot better.

So I can't lie, I don't take enough time to myself. To be alone, to think, and to process, but I do try to give myself a moment every day. Like, we're gonna sit in this parking lot, breathe for five minutes, and decide that everything is okay.

Personally or professionally, what are you most proud of yourself for?

Honestly, I'm kind of proud of this moment in 2020, I was 23, George Floyd passed and the whole world was in arms about everything. I'm still a reclusive writer who's scared to go outside sometimes, so the option of protesting was not my first. I did not jump to go outside in the streets and then my homies were calling me and they had blood dripping down their foreheads. I was like, ‘Okay, I'm staying inside.’ But, it made me feel like I had to do something.

I had just started working on Big Mouth and heard about this family in Louisville that had just lost their father - David McAtee. It was unfair, he was shot by the police in a crossfire while they were trying to handle a protest, I believe. I didn't know what to do, so I decided to start a GoFundMe. It's like all I had going for me. I sent it to every famous connection I had to try and get people to donate money. Nick Kroll posted it, and then I saw Benny Blanco and Ed Sheeran donated. [I helped] raise a million dollars for his family and it went to his mother - Odessa Riley and helped the family a lot. And, to this day, that is the coolest thing I've ever f--king done. I'm not Malcolm X, but I can use my platform to do something, so I'm really proud of that moment.

What does five years from now look like for you?

Five years from now is 2029. Okay, I'm gonna just put it out into the world. Aida Osman is a mommy and has directed her first project. Or at least, a couple of episodes in a project she's written. She has written a whole limited series, a whole movie. She has bought a new house for her mama. And, I want to connect with my roots. I've got family back home in Africa that I really want to connect with, some long-lost brothers and sisters. And, I want to get closer to myself. Those are my big goals.

Photography by: Abdi Ibrahim