When Lena Waithe was the guest on this week’s Questlove Supreme podcast on Pandora, she spoke to Questlove about her role as a queer black woman working in Hollywood today, how she fits into the #MeToo movement especially considering her close relationship with Aziz Ansari, and how much she appreciates constructive criticism.
As a writer and actress on Netflix's Master of None, Waithe made history last year when she became the first African-American female to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for her work on the show's moving "Thanksgiving" episode in season 2. The episode was semi-autobiographical in that it depicted her character Denise’s struggle to come out as gay to her mother and how that affected her family. Because of her close working relationship with Ansari, Waithe has been repeatedly asked to comment on the allegations of sexual misconduct made against her colleague earlier this year. She addressed them again on the podcast.
“I’m very much an advocate of the #MeToo campaign. I think people should be piping up,” she said. “I know Aziz, he was touched by it. And it was not easy for me during that time because I can't just be, ‘Oh, rah, rah. I'm a part of this movement. Fuck everything else.’”
“This is someone who I know for a long time. He really saw something in me at a time when I didn't even think I would have this kind of career,” she continued. “He really introduced people to me, in a way. And he's my friend. I can't just turn my back.”
But the success of her Emmy-winning episode has launched her career beyond just the girl from Master of None. Waithe is now the creator and executive producer of Showtime's The Chi and was recently featured on the cover of Vanity Fair. Because the Emmy win was such a historic feat, it’s often the first superlative attached to her name. Questlove asked Waithe if she ever gets tired of this.
“I’m proud to be a vessel. I know I’m not the first black woman to write a funny episode of television,” she said. “I don’t mind being the first, as long as there are other people that walk through.”
"It changed in terms of how I walk through the world,” she said about how her Emmy has changed her. “Here's the truth. I was already very clear about who I was, the kind of artist I wanted to be, before the Emmy."
Waithe also spoke about her Emmy win at length in the aforementioned Vanity Fair cover story, in which she added that all the Emmy did for her was it gave her the ability to go into meetings and “say I’m too busy to work with you—you should have hollered at me.”
Waithe then entered a general discussion about the current state of black television and film. She noted that she observes a “pressure on black folks to support black stuff whether you love it or not” because “we don’t have enough movies where we can skip it.” She even went on to say that she doesn’t trust the (well deserved) positive feedback she gets for her own show.
“Even with my show, I don't know what's real. Because I don't know if somebody is going to come out and go, 'The Chi is just okay,’” she explained. “Because then folks will be like, 'Why are you hating on?’ But if you don't f with it, tell me why so I can improve it.”
“Until we can start criticizing each other in public, we ain’t going to ever overcome.”
Waithe went on to explain that she hopes black audiences will see things that weren't necessarily made for them, by them. “The tough thing, especially for black folks, is what I want is for our people to have a more sophisticated palate, so to speak,” she said. “Which is like they go see Boo, but then also go see Moonlight, go see a movie like Shape of Water. I just kind of want our folks to have that kind of exposure. It's not unlike dealing with kids on the South Side who's never been downtown. You know what I'm saying?"
You can listen to the rest of the podcast on Pandora.