Lena Waithe is definitely one of the hottest tickets in town right now! Whether it’s from her hugely popular and critically acclaimed “Thanksgiving” episode of Master of None or her very own upcoming TV drama The Chi, she is winning! True fans know her from her web series Twenties (of which she still holds close to her heart and would love to see picked up for TV) and her parody skit, Sh*t Black Girls Say.
This past weekend, Waithe sat down to chat with Film Independent curator Elvis Mitchell during the LA Film Festival Diversity Speaks series. The enriching and engaging conversation ranged from Waithe’s impressive shoe game to Boomerang. The whole segment truly felt like you were kickin’ it with your homie, and Waithe’s laid-back and affable spirit has a lot to do with that.
“As a writer, it’s my job to tell the truth,” Waithe mused. In her opinion, for a script to be one that she is proud of, it has to be honest; it has to be real. This mentality is in large part due to the way A Different World made her feel. Of The Cosby Show spin-off she said, “The characters were so real, you could smell them.” TV certainly had a major impact on Waithe’s entire life, as she deftly ratted off references from a potpourri of content such as Will & Grace, Living Single, Martin, All in the Family, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Growing up, she dreamt of being inside the TV.
“I grew up in a two-parent household: my mother and the tv,” she quipped.
In the true spirit of the Diversity Speaks theme, of course, Waithe and Mitchell discussed her feelings around being a queer woman of color in the TV/Film industry. Often being the only one in the room who looks like her — let alone, those odds slimming even more so when it comes to checking off both boxes — Waithe didn’t think of it as a crutch, but as a “superpower.” In her opinion, broad stories are “boring” and it is the very specific ones that make the most impact on an audience in terms of relating to characters and situations on screen.
She cited the authentic nature of the “Thanksgiving” episode of Master of None, a tag-team writing project by her and the show’s co-creator Aziz Ansari (the other show creator being Alan Yang). Confirming that the episode was semi-autobiographical, Waithe stated that she was proud of the episodes true “blackness” as well as inserted real-life conversations surrounding coming out to one’s parents, specifically as a Black person. The oft-cited “coming out” scene at the diner table is the most popularly praised scene of the episode and rightfully so. However, Mitchell brought up a more subtle scene between Denise (Waithe) and her mother, portrayed by Angela Bassett in the kitchen after one of their infamous holiday dinners, which was a nod Waithe truly appreciated. The scene approaches the grey area of when Black parents “come around” to accepting their children’s sexual identity, as long as it’s not in their faces. “In their faces” can mean simply showing affection to your partner, which Denise’s mom reacted to. As Waithe noted it was a “You can be gay, but not too gay. Don’t be showy about it. Be gay, but don’t let it affect me” moment.
Overall, the conversation was a great look into Waithe the writer and Waithe the woman. I’m definitely a fan and I look forward to seeing her career evolve and reach levels beyond the stars!