Today in Black History, I’m honoring Lena Waithe.
Lena’s name first came to my knowing back in 2014 during press for Dear White People, the movie. I was deep into Tumblr back then and there was a lot of buzz around the movie. I watched every interview with Justin Simien that I could find. I was just stunned to see a black guy who wrote and directed his own movie that wasn’t Spike Lee. Justin dropped the name Lena Waithe as someone who was instrumental to getting DWP made in a few interviews before I was compelled to do some research.
Lena Waithe’s been doing her thing for a good while now. She produced for Justin Simien, she’s rubbed shoulders with the likes of Gina Prince Bythewood and Ava DuVernay, and now she’s out here leading her own projects.
I remember watching the pilot for “Twenties” on YouTube back in my freshman year of college and thinking “I’d like to see more.” Now three years later, TBS has picked the show up for a fully realized first season. Talk about full circle.
Her “Thanksgiving” episode in the second season of Master of None was groundbreaking. It was the story of her character Denise’s coming out to her mother. Lena later revealed in interviews that she drew on her own coming out story as she was writing that episode.
This episode went on to put everybody else who watched it in their feels and Lena won an Emmy for the episode last year for comedic writing, making her the first black woman to do so. Goals.
Now, she’s at the helm of the Showtime Original, The Chi, which is some damn good television if I do say so myself.
Being from the South, I’ve heard about the situation in Chicago primarily through social media. Artists like Chance the Rapper, who hail from the city, have also shed light on the reality of living in Chicago, specifically the Southside, and the paranoia and violence that plague the youth of that environment.
What’s happening in Chicago is ultimately indicative of discriminatory housing policies targeted at communities of color in inner cities all over the country. But of course, this is a more informed and nuanced understanding of what’s happening in the city of Chicago. Mainstream media will tell you that black folks are just violent and senselessly killing each other just because. To this point, Spike Lee took a particularly tone deaf approach to this very issue with his film, Chi-raq, portraying an oversimplified, bloods-vs-crips example of gang relations. The film caught series backlash from Chicago natives and activists.
But Lena Waithe pays homage to her city in a beautiful, nuanced display of real people living real lives with real problems. Her characters are not static stereotypes of the people of Chicago. Brandon could easily be my brother, Poppa, Jake, and Kevin, my little cousins. Even the dope boys that run the block seem sympathetic at times.
This show is simply amazing!
On top of all this, Lena will be starring in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, coming to theaters on March 29th.
It’s like she doesn’t sleep, y’all.
Lena is my friend in my head. As someone out here doing what I want to do with my career in the future, she is just a well of inspiration. Not only does she just make consistently good content, she’s a queer, black woman in Hollywood who’s kicking ass and taking names. With every move she makes, she is showing me and young, black creatives all over the world that we have the power to tell our own stories and change the paradigms of what content can do.
I’ve gushed enough. Lena, if you ever read this, I love you forreal. You’re an inspiration, sis.
Lena Waithe is black history in the making.