Trailblazer: Lena Waithe

By Kashyah Williams

Lena Waithe graces the newly released April cover of Vanity Fair magazine. Waithe is the third openly queer person and the eighth black woman to appear on the 105-year old magazine to date. She is an actor, director, screenwriter and producer. At the 69th Emmy Awards, which took place last year on September 17, Waithe became the first black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series for the television show Master of None.

“I don’t need an Emmy to tell me to go to work. I’m bullets.” The Emmy award-winning screenwriter states during her interview with Vogue writer, Jacqueline Woodson. The 33-year-old actor plays the role of Denise, a young lesbian and close friend of Aziz Ansari’s character; Dev. Waithe’s character has added depth, humor and black girl queerness new to the screen. Lena’s accolades have not stopped there. She is also the executive producer and creator of Showtime’s The Chi.  Directed by Rick Famuyiwa, the series surrounds a fateful turn of events that sends shockwaves through a community on the Southside of Chicago and connects the lives of Emmett, Brandon, Ronnie and Kevin in unexpected ways.

Also accredited to producing the comedic dance film, Step Sisters, which stars Megalyn Echikunwoke as a black sorority girl who agrees to teach the art of Greek stepping to a house of party-obsessed white sorority sisters. Additionally, the multi-talented figure both writes and produces TBS’s Twenties. The series is loosely based on Waithe’s early years in Los Angeles and tells the stories of three black women making their way in Hollywood. Waithe appears in the newly released Spielberg film, Ready Player One, which is adapted from Ernest Cline’s 2011 science-fiction novel of the same name, following contestants pitted against one another in a virtual-reality world.

Aside from her busy entertainment roles, Waithe is working to get more people of color and queer artists into film and television. She is the co-chair of the Committee of Black Writers at the Writers Guild. When asked about challenges she faces, Waithe says “The hardest thing about being a black writer in this town is having to pitch your black story to white execs. Also, most of the time when we go into rooms to pitch, there’s one token black executive that sometimes can be a friend and sometimes can be a foe.”

The Chi’s co-executive producer, Common, says about Waithe “There’s no box you could put her in.”

“Her honesty was glaring, she couldn’t hit a wrong note,” says four-time Academy Award-winning director Steven Spielberg. To read the complete Vanity Fair article, click here.

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