Lena Waithe: “No One Can Tell A Black & Queer Story The Way I Can, Because I See The God In Us”

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Lena Waithe is most certainly conquering Hollywood as she is featured on the latest edition of the coveted Vanity Fair magazine!

Check out what the 33-year-old writer and producer shared with the publication about her Showtime series The Chi, being the first black woman to win an Emmy award for Outstanding Writing, black and gay representation in Hollywood and much more!

On working in Hollywood amid her public success: “Here’s the irony of it all. I don’t need an Emmy to tell me to go to work. I’ve been working. I’ve been writing, I’ve been developing, I’ve been putting pieces together and I’m bullets, you know what I’m saying?”

 

 

On growing up with a single mother: “I was watching a lot of movies I shouldn’t have been watching. Like ‘Boyz N the Hood.’ Also a lot of rated-R s*it. ‘Jungle Fever.’ But that’s the joy of having a single mom. She was like, I can’t hover over you. Watch what you want. Just don’t repeat what you hear and don’t do what you see….She was saving up and maybe a little bit wanted to get out of the South Side. Even though I was going to a good school [in the city], Turner-Drew, which was like an early magnet school which she found, because that’s the kind of shit she did.” Lena says this with true gratitude. “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. It was like a fuckin’ Benetton ad.”

On black female comedy writers that came before her: “They didn’t get their shine. They were constantly banging on the doors. I rolled up and all I had to do was tip it and walk through.”

 

 

On winning the Emmy for “Master of None”: “How has the Emmy changed me? 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. You can take my call when I call you about this black queer writer over here who’s got a dope pilot, or this person over here who’s got really cool ideas, or this actress who’s really amazing but nobody’s seen her.”

On the lack of black Hollywood executives: “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. I wonder if they think it makes me more comfortable, if that makes me think that they’re a woke network or studio because they’ve got that one black exec. It feels patronizing. I’m not against a black exec. I want there to be more of them…it was a symbolic moment when ‘Moonlight’ literally took the Oscar out of ‘La La Land’’s hand. It is a symbolic moment when Issa Rae’s poster is bigger than Sarah Jessica Parker’s. Now the hands that used to pick cotton can pick the next box office. . . . See what I’m saying? There’s a shift that’s happening. There’s a transition of power. But we still aren’t in power.””

 

 

On her aesthetic: “Being black and gay, having dreadlocks, having a certain kind of swag, and dressing the way I do,” she explains, she is sometimes told by certain well-meaning admirers or fashion wannabes, “ ‘That’s dope, you’re cool.’ I don’t feel validated by that. . . . I don’t want to be White. I don’t want to be straight. I don’t want to blend in. . . . I try to wear queer designers who happen to be brown and makin’ sh*t.”

 

On how she defines activism: “I have a ton of mentees. They’re all people of color. Some of them are poor. 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. That to me is a form of activism. I was doing this before Time’s Up was created. I am doing it now. Activism is me paying for a writer to go to a television-writing class.”

 

 

On the need for black and gay representation in entertainment: “I am tired of white folks telling my stories. We gotta tell our sh*t. Can’t no one tell a black story, particularly a queer story, the way I can, because I see the God in us. James Baldwin saw the God in us. Zora saw the God in us. When I’m looking for myself, I find myself in the pages of Baldwin. I didn’t realize I was born to stand out as much as I do. But I’m grateful. Because the other black or brown queer kids are like, ‘Oh, we the sh*t.’

 

Images: Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair

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  • Trachelle Carr

    I think she’s so dope, and The Chi is an AMAZING show. I love the fact that she’s a “writer’s writer.”