Lena Waithe (born May 17, 1984) is an American screenwriter, producer, and actress. She starred in the Netflix comedy-drama series Master of None (2015–2017). She became the first black woman to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series in 2017 for writing the show's "Thanksgiving" episode, which was loosely based on her personal experience of coming out to her mother.
Waithe at the 2018 WonderCon
|Alma mater||Columbia College Chicago|
(m. 2019; separated 2020)
Waithe is also the creator of the Showtime drama series The Chi (2018–present), Boomerang (2019-present), and Twenties (2020-present). She appeared in Steven Spielberg's 2018 adventure film Ready Player One, and in 2019 wrote and produced the crime film Queen & Slim.
Waithe was born in Chicago, Illinois. Though acting was not originally among Waithe's ambitions, she knew from the age of seven that she wanted to be a television writer, and received strong family support for her writing from her single mother and grandmother: Her parents had divorced when she was three; Waithe's father died when she was fourteen. Waithe and her sister grew up on the South Side of Chicago until Waithe was age twelve, and attended a local, mostly African-American elementary magnet school, Turner-Drew but moved to Evanston and finished middle school at Chute Middle School. She graduated from Evanston Township High School and earned a degree in Cinema and Television Arts from Columbia College Chicago in 2006, praising faculty playwright Michael Fry for his teaching and encouragement. Finding more ways to involve herself in the television and film industry, she also worked at a movie theater as well as the media department of a Blockbuster. In 2006 she transferred her Blockbuster job to Los Angeles to begin pursuing her ambitions.
Having arrived in Los Angeles, Waithe secured a job as an assistant to the executive producer of Girlfriends, a long running sitcom. Soon after, she landed a minor role in Lisa Kudrow's The Comeback. She later became a writer for the Fox television series Bones, a writer for the 2012 Nickelodeon sitcom How to Rock, and a producer on the 2014 satirical comedy film Dear White People. Waithe wrote and appeared in the YouTube series "Twenties" which was produced by Flavor Unit Entertainment and optioned in 2014 by BET. In addition to writing and directing the short film "Save Me", which was shown at several independent film festivals, Waithe wrote the 2013 web series "Hello Cupid" and the 2011 viral video Shit Black Girls Say.
In 2014, Variety named Waithe as one of its "10 Comedians to Watch". In August 2015, Showtime network commissioned a pilot for an upcoming series, The Chi, written by Waithe and produced by Common, which tells a young urban Black-American man's coming-of-age story. As the show's creator, Waithe's goal was to bring her experience growing up on the South Side and experiencing its diversity to craft a story that paints a more nuanced portrait of her hometown than is typically shown. Similarly, Waithe continues to extend her influence to support the Black-American community in the entertainment industry through her role as co-chair of the Committee of Black Writers at the Writers Guild. Waithe was cast in the Netflix series Master of None after meeting creator and lead actor Aziz Ansari who, with Alan Yang, had originally written Denise as a straight, white woman with the potential, according to Waithe, to evolve into one of the main character's love interests: "For some reason, [casting director] Allison Jones thought about me for it, a black gay woman." Ansari and Yang rewrote the script to make the character more like Waithe: "All of us actors play heightened versions of ourselves." She said, "I don't know if we've seen a sly, harem pants-wearing, cool Topshop sweatshirt-wearing, snapback hat-rocking lesbian on TV." She also said, "I know how 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."
In 2017, Waithe and Ansari won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for the season 2 episode "Thanksgiving". She became the first Black-American woman to win an Emmy in that category. Waithe described the episode as based on her coming out experience as a lesbian. During her Emmy speech, she sent a special message to her LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual) family discussing how "The things that make us different—those are our superpowers." She ended her speech by recognizing her journey as a Black woman saying "Thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little queer black girl from the South Side of Chicago." Waithe also developed an autobiographical drama series called The Chi. Out Magazine named Waithe the Out100: Artist of the Year on November 8, 2017.
Waithe wrote and produced the road trip/crime film Queen & Slim, starring Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya, and directed by Melina Matsoukas. It was released on November 27, 2019, by Universal Pictures.
When Waithe is not actively working on writing, acting, or producing, she works to recruit more people of color and queer artists for her film and television projects.
Waithe is a lesbian. She became engaged in 2017 to her long-time girlfriend Alana Mayo, a content executive; the couple married in 2019 in San Francisco. On January 23, 2020, Waithe and Mayo announced that they had separated after two months of marriage.
Waithe has described her family as "lazy Christians" and said in 2018, "I'm a huge believer in God, and Jesus Christ, and that God made me and all those things. And I try to just be a good person. I think that is the base of my religion, is to be good, is to be honest."
|2011||Save Me||N/A||Short film; Director and writer|
|2014||Dear White People||N/A||Producer|
|2018||Ready Player One||Aech / Helen|
|2019||Queen & Slim||N/A||Screenwriter, Co-producer|
|2020||The 40-Year-Old Version||N/A||Producer|
|2020||Onward||Officer Specter (voice)|
As an actress
|Year||Title||Role||Crew role, notes|
|2014||The Comeback||Summer||Episode: "Valerie Faces the Critics"|
|2015–2017||Master of None||Denise||Main role; 10 episodes|
|2018||This Is Us||Animal Shelter Clerk||Episode: "That'll Be the Day"|
|2018||Dear White People||P. Ninny||3 episodes|
|2019||A Black Lady Sketch Show||Office Employee||Episode: "Your Boss Knows You Don't Have Eyebrows"|
|2020||The Healing Powers of Dude||Lord Dingwall||Episode: "I'll Be Right Here"|
|2020||The Chi||Camille Hallaway||2 episodes|
As a writer
|Year||Title||Role||Crew role, notes|
|2012||How to Rock||Writer||2 episodes|
|2013||Hello Cupid||Writer||7 episodes|
|2014–2015||Bones||Staff writer||15 episodes|
|2015||Master of None||Writer||Episode: Thanksgiving|
|2018-2020||The Chi||Creator; Writer||30 episodes|
|2019-2020||Boomerang||Creator; Writer; Executive producer||4 episodes|
|2020||Twenties||Creator; Executive producer||8 episode|
Awards and nominationsEdit
|2015||Independent Spirit Awards||Best First Feature||Dear White People||Nominated|
|2015||Gotham Awards||Audience Award||Nominated|
|2015||Black Reel||Outstanding Motion Picture||Nominated|
|2017||Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Writing - Comedy Series||"Thanksgiving", Master of None||Won|
|2018||Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle||Trailblazer Award||N/A||Nominated|
|2018||Writers Guild of America||Comedy Series||Master of None||Nominated|
|2018||NAACP Image Awards||Writing - Comedy Series||Nominated|
|2018||MTV Movie Award||Best on Screen Team||Ready Player One||Nominated|
|2019||St. Louis Film Critics Association||Best Original Screenplay||Queen & Slim||Nominated|
|2019||Black Film Critics Circle Awards||Best Original Screenplay||Won|
- Swartz, Tracy (November 18, 2015). "Chicago-set pilot to be a mix of 'Fruitvale Station,' 'Crash'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 2, 2015.
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- Goldberg, Lesley (August 11, 2015). "Showtime Orders Black Coming-of-Age Drama Produced by Common". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
- Holman, Jordyn (July 1, 2014). "Comedian Lena Waithe Inks Deal With BET to Write Pilot 'Twenties' (Exclusive)". Variety. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
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- "Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series - 2017". Television Academy. Retrieved July 16, 2017.
- Saraiya, Sonia. "Lena Waithe on Being the 1st Black Woman Nom'd for Comedy Writing Emmy". Variety. Retrieved August 6, 2017.
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- "About the LGBTQIA Resource Center | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual Resource Center". lgbtqia.ucdavis.edu. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
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- "Read the Full Text of Master of None Writer Lena Waithe's Moving Emmys Speech". Time. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
- Littleton, Cynthia (September 17, 2017). "Lena Waithe Wins Emmy: First Black Woman to Get Comedy Writing Award". Variety. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
- Andreeva, Nellie, "Showtime Picks Up Drama ‘The Chi’ To Series; Jason Mitchell Joins Cast – TCA", Deadline Hollywood, January 9, 2017.
- "OUT100: Lena Waithe, Artist of the Year". November 8, 2017. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
- Jodie Smith-Turner to Star Opposite Daniel Kaluuya in ‘Queen & Slim’ (EXCLUSIVE)
- Woodson, Jacqueline. "The Cover Story: Lena Waithe Is Changing the Game". HWD. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
- Leighton-Dore, Samuel (March 7, 2018). "Lena Waithe encourages closeted colleagues to 'stop hiding' and come out". sbs.com.au. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
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- Missing, Natalie (December 19, 2017). "Lena Waithe Got Engaged on Thanksgiving, Is Truly Committed To Queering Thanksgiving". Autostraddle. Retrieved March 7, 2018.
- "Alana Mayo | Professional Profile". Linked in. Retrieved December 1, 2017.[dead link]
- Calvario, Liz (November 15, 2019). "Lena Waithe Reveals She Secretly Married Longtime Love Alana Mayo". Yahoo Entertainment. Retrieved November 16, 2019.
- France, Lisa Respers. "Lena Waithe and wife Alana Mayo split two months after marriage announcement". CNN. Retrieved January 23, 2020.
- "'The Chi' Creator Lena Waithe Says Television 'Taught Me How To Dream'". NPR.org. January 11, 2018. Retrieved June 14, 2018.
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