Lena Waithe

Born in Chicago, in 1984, Lena Waithe graduated with a degree in cinema and television arts from Columbia College Chicago in 2006. She is an actor, playwright, screenwriter and mentor. Her portfolio career includes amongst other achievements, being the creator of the Showtime series “The Chi”, writing and producing the satirical comedy film “Dear White People” and the crime film “Queen and Slim” an award winning film including a BET Award for Best Movie (2020), Florida Film Critics Circle Award (2019) amongst other accolades. Accomplished on both sides of the camera it was probably her acting roles in Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” and the HBO series “Westworld” that first brought her to our attention here in the UK.

It was, however, the Netflix series “Master of None” and the Thanksgiving episode in particular that drew Waithe into many lesbian hearts and the pages of Vogue Magazine. It has definitely gone down as one of my best TV moments. The writers, Aziz Ansari and Paul Young, originally intended the character Denise to be a heterosexual white woman. Upon meeting Waithe, it became obvious to Ansari, who also plays the main character, that his best friend forever would be a black gay woman. Waithe talks about drawing a lot from her personal life and those around her in her work; a smart move, this won her an Emmy for the Thanksgiving episode (series 2 episode 8). With great observation and self parody, it centres around one special family day in the year, revisited over time, which takes the audience through Denise’s adolescence, coming out and bringing her first girlfriends home to meet the family.

Lena Waithe continues to break ground. In 2023 her play Ain’t No Mo was nominated for a Tony Award, she voices Disney’s first gay character, Onward’s lesbian Officer Specter, and she has a production and mentoring company Hillman Grad, a vehicle for getting more black and gay people into film and television.

A recent Vanity Fair cover story, the first to feature an openly black lesbian, called her someone who is disrupting the hell out of Hollywood. Nominated as one of Time Magazine’s Top 100 most influential people Senator Kamala Harris writes,

“Thanks to Waithe, diverse communities can turn on the TV and see vivid, funny, deeply real portrayals of people like themselves. And that’s empowering—whether you’re a student or a Senator. As Waithe said in her Emmy acceptance speech, “The things that make us different, those are our superpowers.” Because of her, millions of Americans have donned their capes.”

References and further reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lena_Waithe

The Thanksgiving episode of Netflix Series Master of None Netflix Series 2 Episode 8 – https://www.vogue.com/article/master-of-none-season-2-thanksgiving-episode-lena-waithe

https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80049714

https://time.com/collection/most-influential-people-2018/5238194/lena-waithe

https://www.oprahdaily.com/entertainment/books/a29657752/robyn-crawford-lena-waithe-a-song-for-you-interview/

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