Lena Waithe is a multi-hyphenate for sure: writer, producer and actor. She is the creator of the Showtime series The Chi (2018–present) and a pair of BET series Boomerang (2019–present), a workplace comedy with a cast that includes Grace Jones, Eddie Murphy and Halle Berry; and Twenties (2020–present), a comedy about a young queer Black woman and her two straight best friends. Waith also wrote and produced the film Queen & Slim (2020) a young Black couple played by Academy Award-nominee Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith who go on the run after accidentally killing a racist police officer during a traffic stop. She is also the executive producer of the horror anthology series Them (2021–present), which began streaming on Amazon Prime earlier this month.
One of my very favorite pre-pandemic television series was the thoughtful, moving, sweet, and deeply funny Master Of None created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang. It has had quite the unusual schedule: Season One was in 2015, with Season Two in 2017. It has now been on hiatus for the past four years.
Good news for fans; Season Three is set to begin next month, and the buzz is that it will focus on Waithe’s character.
In 2017, Waithe and Ansari won an Emmy for outstanding comedy writing for a Season Two episode, Thanksgiving, which focuses on her character’s struggles with coming out to her family. It was, for me, one of the finest half hours in television history.
During the series’ four-year hiatus, Ansari was all caught up in a very odd #MeToo accusation, which became controversial itself. In January 2018, on the now-defunct website babe.net, a woman using a pseudonym described a date with Ansari during which she felt he was overly aggressive and had pressured her into having sex. She wrote:
”It really hit me that I was violated. I felt really emotional all at once. That whole experience was actually horrible.”
”In September of last year, I met a woman at a party. We exchanged numbers. We texted back and forth and eventually went on a date. We went out to dinner, and afterwards we ended up engaging in sexual activity, which by all indications was completely consensual. I continue to support the #MeToo movement that is happening in our culture. It is necessary and long overdue.”
The story went viral, setting off all sorts of contentious statements, with some arguing that bad reporting obscured the real issue: consent and dating. Others, including New York Times opinion writer Bari Weiss and staff writer at The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan, strongly suggesting that the whole thing was a moment of #MeToo overreach, and that the story was just an anecdote about a bad date. Then it got all nasty.
Ansari dropped out of sight, moving to London. In 2019, he did a stand-up tour that was filmed as a Netflix special, Right Now, where he told the audience:
”There were times I felt scared. There were times I felt humiliated. There were times I felt embarrassed. And ultimately, I just felt terrible that this person felt this way.”
At the end of Right Now, Ansari quietly and earnestly explains the title, saying:
”...what matters in life is the moment we’re in, and the people we’re with.”
Waithe was cast in Master Of None after meeting Ansari who had originally written her character as a straight, white woman with the potential to evolve into one of the main character’s love interests. Ansari rewrote the script to make the character more like Waithe.
In 2017, Waithe and Ansari won their Emmy Award for writing Thanksgiving, she became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy in the Comedy Writing category. Waithe says the episode is based on her own coming out experience During her Emmy speech, she sent a special message to the LGBTQ+ community:
“The things that make us different—those are our superpowers. Thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little queer Black girl from the South Side of Chicago.”
Last year, Waithe did voice work for the animated film Onward, playing the first queer animated character in Disney history. She says that she is dedicated to finding more people of color and queer artists for her film and television projects.