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We need to see how far past this is where the journey into black television began—when we first saw ourselves reflected back through the characters of J. As a young child, looking for mirrors of myself in episodes of as her fellow panelists echo their agreement, tell her to say it, nod in memory and reverence. She sports her signature ensemble: hoodie, with a snapback logo cap. Another favorite is Chance the Rapper’s “3.” I ask her whom she likes to wear and she quickly spits out a list of queer and black designers. These execs are all looking around and saying to themselves, ‘Shit, we want a ; we want a movie where motherfuckers come out in droves and see it multiple times and buy out movie theaters.’ And because we also live in a town of copycats, there are going to be a lot of bad black superhero movies coming because everybody ain’t Ryan Coogler! And it gave me an education in using your platform to protest, but without being preachy. When I’m looking for myself, I find myself in the pages of Baldwin.”Then she adds, “I didn’t realize I was born to stand out as much as I do. Because the other black or brown queer kids are like, ‘Oh, we the shit.’ ” Lena flashes a huge smile, then shakes her head with wonder.“We as artists can do whatever the fuck we want to do,” she urges the audience. Sheila Rashid; Knoxxy’s brand, DVMN Pigeon; Nicole Wilson. ”Lena, naturally, comes back to the beginning, returning to the roots of her storytelling. And how you can use TV characters, fictitious characters, as a way to speak to who we are as a society.“I am tired of white folks telling my stories. Can’t no one tell a black story, particularly a queer story, the way I can, because I see the God in us. So you find your strength and a deep belief in yourself in the streets and family dinners of Chicago—a place you call home, a long way from your grandmother’s own Arkansas. Lena and I sit down to dinner for the first time, at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. Broad-shouldered and fast-walking, she flashes a smile at our hostess and emphasizes her please-and-thank-yous with our waitress. If you haven’t heard of Lena Waithe, check yourself for a pulse. As the first black woman to nail an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, Lena—along with a crew of other black creatives—is sending a message to the world that Black Brilliance has arrived in Hollywood and has not come to play.Spielberg says of her audition, “She was accessible at a glance. And she couldn’t hit a wrong note, because she found a way to be herself on-camera. The magic hadn’t walked into the room—until Lena did.”A few days before Lena is scheduled to speak at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood ceremony, where she is being honored, our talk turns to her work as an activist and in the Time’s Up movement. She tells them to come out: ‘Come out, wherever you are. (Ansari stated that their sexual activity was consensual.) Lena gets quieter, more thoughtful. educate ourselves about what consent is—what it looks like, what it feels like, what it sounds like. As she reads out loud to me from her upcoming speech, her voice is a mixture of immense excitement and barely concealed fear: “Being born a gay Black female is not a revolutionary act. Don’t be afraid.’ It’s interesting how things you hear as a kid take on a whole new meaning when you are an adult.” The day after her speech, pictures of her in a beautifully tailored gold paisley suit flood social media. And I’m just trying to help them learn how to be great writers; and for those that have become really good writers, I help them get representation; and those that have representation, I want to help get them jobs. “At the end of the day,” Lena says, “what I would hope comes out of this is that we as a society . I think there are both men and women who are still trying to figure it out. But right now Lena is ordering an oyster appetizer, sitting back, and chatting with me about, among other things, our time at Sundance. Lena and I have not spent real time together before, but there’s a deep knowing between us.We talk about our families, our girlfriends, East Coast versus West Coast, and the movies that didn’t quite work at the festival.
With Common as an executive producer and Rick Famuyiwa directing, the show has been picked up for a second season. Waithe produced the comedic dance film When she’s not producing, acting, writing, or creating, Lena is working hard to pull more people of color and queer artists into film and television both through her role as co-chair of the Committee of Black Writers at the Writers Guild and through her work with aspiring writers via Franklin Leonard’s the Black List—a platform by which people can pay to get feedback on their material from established professionals.Lena considers her personal style her own mode of self-expression, irrespective of the circles she travels in, which, in professional Hollywood, tend to be largely white and, often, male. As much as anyone appreciates a compliment about their “look,” she says she doesn’t in 2015—for his read on Lena. “It’s not only [the fact that] I admire her, but I feel like I’m just somebody who sits and listens, looks at her work, and is like, ‘Man, this is really great writing! I begin to see that this is who Lena is: a woman coming at the world from many different places, quick-moving and fast-talking yet soft-spoken and thoughtful, cursing a mile a minute while bringing a new vibrancy to language. On the butch side of queer but with delicate edges. While Denise was originally written for a straight woman, who would eventually become a love interest of Dev’s, Waithe’s character has added a depth, humor, and black-girl queerness new to the screen. And while Lena’s Denise seems to be handpicked from Lena’s life story, Waithe brings to this character something different. It’s not so much an innocence but angles smoothed over, the product of a quieter past.Many of the people in my own queer world would have blinked past the show had it not been for Waithe’s character.
When our parents separated, our mothers returned to their mothers’ homes. “So half of that year I was still on the South Side and the other half I moved to Evanston and went to Chute Middle School. “He had substance-abuse issues, which my mom told me about later, but . But in that moment I only want to sit with her in the quiet, to muse, wordlessly, about the strength of mothers and grandmothers and the many levels to our survival. It got me all these meetings that I go in and say I’m too busy to work with you—you should have hollered at me.