Lena Waithe at the 2017 Emmys. Photo by Steve Granitz: WireImage.
What does she do? Lena Waithe is an American actress, producer, and screenwriter. She is best known for her role on Aziz Ansari’s Netflix show, Master of None, wherein she portrays a young, African American gay woman named Denise. At the 2017 Emmys, she won an the award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for her work on Master of None, becoming the first black woman to receive this recognition. She was a writer for the 2012 Nickelodeon sitcom How to Rock and a producer on the 2014 comedy film Dear White People.
Who is she? Born in Chicago, Illinois, Waithe grew up wanting to be a television writer. She lived on the South Side until she was twelve-year-old, attending Turner-Drew, an Elementary magnet school. From there, she graduated from Evanston Township High School, going on to receive a degree in Cinema and Television Arts from Columbia College Chicago. Waithe’s professional career began with a writing position for the Fox television series, Bones. A place in Variety’s “10 Comedians to Watch” list introduced her to Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang.
Though the producers of Master of Young originally intended for Denise to be a straight white woman, Waithe’s talent helped her achieve the roll of a lifetime. The original scripts were re-written to make the character sound more like Waithe. On the topic of this role, Waithe has said: “I don’t know if we’ve seen a sly, harem pants-wearing, cool Topshop sweatshirt-wearing, snapback hat-rocking lesbian on TV. I know many women I see out in the world who are very much like myself. We exist. To me, the visibility of it was what was going to be so important and so exciting.”
Why watch? Waithe is a smart and poignant writer, earning international acclaim for her work on Master of None. She is the creative force behind the new Showtime series The Chi—a drama about life on Chicago’s South Side. This topical work, combined with Waithe’s wit and comedic grace, is bound to start important conversations in communities nationwide. We also predict more awards in Waithe’s future.