Lena Waithe is an Emmy award-winning comedy writer, actor, producer and activist. She isn’t afraid to own her truth—and she does just that as the star of Vanity Fair’s April issue (which also happens to be the first cover shoot for the magazine’s newly minted editor-in-chief Radhika Jones).
In conversation with writer Jacqueline Woodson, Waithe—who stars in Master of None and The Chi, which she also created—opens up about her personal and professional life. Woodson paints a vivid picture of Waithe’s childhood and struggle to be taken seriously in Hollywood, and gives readers an intimate peek into the life of a fearless and determined content creator. Much to our delight, Waithe doesn’t hold back either.
If you read FLARE’s own interview with Waithe from earlier this year, and are hungry to learn more about her, here are some of the most smile-inducing and thought-provoking points from her chat with Woodson. (When you have a moment, do yourself a favour and read the whole profile—it is magnificent.)
Lena Waithe developed a love for television writing early
When she was a kid, Waithe’s mother let the future star watch as much TV as her heart desired, to the point that Waithe—who was also raised by her grandmother—refers to television as her “Third Parent.” Her mom did so as a means of protecting Lena as much as she could from the streets of south Chicago. The only condition? That Lena didn’t use any of language or emulate any of the behaviours she saw on the tube.
“You watch old reruns of The Jeffersons, Good Times, All in the Family, and realize as you watch these people that this is what you have—words and characters and story. These are the tools these shows are giving you,” writes Woodson about Waithe’s introduction to storytelling.
Waithe earns high praise from directors Ava DuVernay and Steven Spielberg
Before she first graced our screens back in 2015, Waithe worked behind the scenes in Hollywood. Literally. Back in 2010, A Wrinkle in Time’s Ava DuVernay told Woodson that Waithe helped make coffee and take out the trash on the set of Duvernay’s I Will Follow. But even then, DuVernay knew Waithe would soon be onto greater things. She tells Woodson she “noticed real promise” within Waithe.
The high praise continues, this time from Steven Spielberg. Waithe is set to appear as virtual mechanic Aech in Spielberg’s sci-fi thriller Ready Player One, out next week. Spielberg tells Woodson about Waithe’s magnetic energy, which was apparent even during the first auditions for the film (based on the Ernest Cline novel by the same name). “She couldn’t hit a wrong note, because she found a way to be herself on camera. I suddenly felt like I had hit the jackpot. The magic hadn’t walked into the room—until Lena did,” he says.
The Wizard of Oz has a deeper meaning for Waithe
While Woodson was profiling Waithe—the pair hung out multiple times for the piece—Waithe was honoured at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood ceremony, where she accepted the Ford Vanguard Award for her work. At one point, Waithe pulls out her prepared acceptance speech and excitedly reads it aloud to Woodson. In it, she describes her love of The Wizard of Oz, the classic 1939 film, and how Glinda the Good Witch’s advice helped her face her fears coming out as a gay woman in Hollywood.
“Dorothy’s presence interrupts the peace in Oz, which forces all the Munchkins to go run and hide. So Glinda the Good Witch tells them. . . to stop hiding. She tells them to come out: ‘Come out, wherever you are. Don’t be afraid,'” Waithe tells Woodson. “It’s interesting how things you hear as a kid take on a whole new meaning when you are an adult.”
Waithe continues: “Being born gay, Black and female is not a revolutionary act. Being proud to be a gay, Black female is.”
Waithe mentors young writers
Waithe is all about lifting up new voices. Case in point: she spends her time helping up-and-coming writers make it big in the biz. “I’m just trying to help them learn how to be great writers,” she tells Woodson. “And for those that have become really good writers, I help them get representation.” It’s a simple way to pay things forward, quite literally: Waithe often pays for young Black writers to go to television-writing classes.
Waithe’s Vanity Fair cover represents a new direction for the magazine
Last December, 44-year-old Jones took the helm at Vanity Fair, following longtime editor-in-chief Graydon Carter, 68, who had held the position since 1992. Last month, in her first editor’s letter, Jones discussed her takeover. “[It] comes with tremendous opportunity,” she wrote, “to draw attention to the people who are on the culture’s cutting edge, whose talent and creative vision transform the ways we see the world and ourselves.”
She’s off to a great start.
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