Lena Waithe is a name that emerged in 2017 and looks to dominate 2018’s television landscape.
Waithe is best known for becoming the voice of a trifecta conglomeration of under-represented and discriminated demographics: She is Black, she is queer, and she is a woman.
Growing up in Southside Chicago, Waithe wasn’t allowed to work as a teenager, so she spent a lot of time in front of the television. She’s stated in many interviews that she’s known what she’s wanted to do for a long time: write for TV.
When she hit the spotlight, she had already been prepared for the bombardment of ignorance and stigma surrounding her reality. But Waithe saw this as a positive, as opposed to a more restrictive quality. Her focus was to turn that ignorance into an opportunity to teach, using her artistic creativity.
She works with Aziz Ansari on the Netflix series Master of None. She plays the main character, Dev’s, best friend, paving the path for her character’s story line. In the episode “Thanksgiving”, her coming out scene proved to be more impactful that she originally believed.
She didn’t believe that her story was “interesting” enough to be told, but using a sequence of time-lapse events that switch from her Thanksgiving in 1995 up until the present moment, Waithe is able to capture the poignant realities of being Black and gay, how her mother, (played by Angela Bassett) breaks down into tears not due to her daughter’s sexuality, but by recognizing how difficult it would be to be accepted in society now, and how throughout it all, her friendship with Dev prospers, reminding us that there is hope for all those going through Lena’s experiences.
The scene reflected Waithe’s real life process of coming out, though she didn’t believe her experience was “interesting” at first, sure enough, the audience loved it, and it landed her an Emmy, making her the first Black woman to ever win “Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.”
“We still have a long way to go to really show the breadth of what the queer community is. There are people out there like me who exist and we deserve to be on screen as well.”
Lena immediately took on other projects; writing and directing The Chi, which shows the “human” side of Chicago that no one outside of the city seems to believe exists.
But it was anything but easy for her. The Chi had many rejections before being picked up by Showtime.
From an interview with Larry King, Lena says she understood the hesitation,
“It’s a multi protagonist story…. It’s a character study. And I think sometimes it’s difficult to see, particularly when it’s people of color.”
Showtime’s president and CEO David Nevins referred to Waithe as one of the industry’s “next generation voices,” writes Salon.
Waithe shares her inspiration for having such a raw series come to life on the screen.
“I just wanted to feel a human story that, even if you’re not from Chicago, and if you’re not Black, you can still look at it and see the humanity in it. A big thing for me was to [show] there’s a real a sense of community there. I totally understand why people don’t see it, because it’s not something that anyone’s ever portrayed on television.”
The Chi has had nothing but positive reviews so far, with the first episode available on YouTube for your streaming pleasure.
Waithe hopes to become a voice for Black people everywhere. Though she was the first Black woman to win an Emmy for Comedy Writing, she hopes she will not be the last.
In an interview with Q, she talks about how she plans to stay a relevant voice for people of color and how the change starts within us all. Staying focused on making a change will drive change, otherwise, it will never work.
“Its up to us as a society to make sure were staying focused on our task and that our agenda is clear… Where would we be if MLK said you know what, ‘I’m over the civil rights movement thing’?”
Lena is encapsulating everyone with her cutting perspective and shifting the tide on the traditional outlook we have in our media. Lena’s projects have only just begun, and her reign is sure to extend beyond her past experiences, but onto other enterprises.
Stay tuned for this risk taker, she’ll be sure to maintain her ingenuity in all of her projects.