Get to Know Rising Star Lena Waithe from ‘Master of None’

She's now creating her own shows, and forcing the industry to pay attention to new, black voices.

September 3, 2017 5:00 am

In a recent interview with The Atlantic, Lena Waithe discussed her career and her place as someone who now juggles writing, acting, directing, and producing responsibilities in Hollywood.

Waithe’s identity as a queer black woman led her to co-write the acclaimed “Thanksgiving” episode on Master of None, where she co-stars as “Denise” with show creator Aziz Ansari. That episode went on to become one of the show’s most praised storylines. Waithe is now up for an Emmy Award for comedy writing thanks to that work. This makes her the first black woman ever to be nominated in that category. The episode is based largely on Waithe’s own experiences, and it chronicles Denise’s life over decades of holiday dinners.

But this isn’t the only thing Waithe, who is from Chicago, has going on right now. She is producing her own drama series on Showtime called The Chi, about a group of black men on the South Side of Chicago. She is also developing a pilot about her experiences living in Los Angeles when she was in her 20s. On top of all that, she will be in adaptation of Ready Player One, which will premiere in March 2018.

Waithe explained that she has been obsessed with television since she was seven. She said that she’s “always working to get to that place so I don’t have to make myself quieter or make other people feel comfortable in certain instances. ”

Waithe also discussed how Hollywood needs black women in a “real way,” despite corporate influences that tend to suppress their voices. She said that she doesn’t believe that “white folks can’t tell our stories.” As an example, she pointed out that a white person wrote one her favorite episodes of A Different World. However, Waithe noted that a black woman, Debbie Allen, was working with the white writer to make sure that story was told in a very dignified way.

“There’s controversy around certain stories about brown bodies being told by people who aren’t brown, and the world isn’t standing for that [anymore],” Waithe told The Atlantic. “So now there’s a really dire need for writers and creators to come on and tell our own stories.”

Waithe also explained that she knows the Emmy nomination puts her in a different position in the industry and gets her a little bit more respect. But she’s an “artist at the end of the day.” Her hope is that she can continue to introduce executive industry people to “amazing black writers so that there’s no shortage of them to choose from.”

“That’s the only way the industry is going to change—from the inside out,” Waithe said. “It just can’t be about my empire. I want to not just see us run races in separate lanes, I want to see us grab hands and run faster and cross the finish line together.”

You can read the full interview in The Atlantic. 

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