Actress, producer and screenwriter Lena Waithe, a gay Black woman, has not only made history in Hollywood, but continues to use her platform to encourage and inspire other Black LGBTQ people to be their authentic selves.
Last year, Waithe became the first Black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for her work on “Master of None.” Not only did she co-write (with Aziz Ansar) the award-winning episode, “Thanksgiving,” she actually starred in it. Her character, Denise, found the courage to come out to her mother, played by Angela Bassett. Waithe is also the creator of the Showtime drama series “The Chi,” which has been renewed for a second season.
At the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards on Thursday in Los Angeles, a celebration preceding Sunday night’s Oscars, the 33-year-old received the Ford Vanguard Award in front of an audience of stars including Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and Tiffany Haddish.
In her acceptance speech, Waithe declared her love for fiance Alana Mayo.
“I’m glad I can do that profess my love to my love out loud in front of all of you,” Waithe said, according to Essence. “Who knew that in 2018 that would still be considered a revolutionary act”
Waithe also made the point that many in the Black LGBTQ community lived in fear of being themselves to please others and some are “still hiding.”
“So many of our Black gay, lesbian, queer, trans foremothers and forefathers and those that never felt comfortable with either gender had to hide it inside,” she said.
“They were forced to hide in hopes that one day we wouldn’t have to and now look at us, still hiding. Being a gay Black female is not a revolutionary act,” she continued. “Being proud to be a gay Black female is.”
Waithe has worked for trailblazing Black women in the entertainment industry including Mara Brock Akil, Gina Prince-Bythewood and Ava DuVernay.
The women “glide through the industry with a lot of class and grace and dignity, even though they’ve been put through probably a lot more trials and tribulations than their white male counterparts,” Waithe said in an interview with The Atlantic in September.
Beginning her career as an assistant to the showrunners for Brock Akil’s show “Girlfriends,” Waithe said she had mentors helping to critique her TV scripts.
“I was writing bad scripts for a while, and luckily those writers would give me feedback,” she said.
“What particularly stood out to me was the numbers on crime procedural programs,” Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change, told DiversityInc.
According to a study released in November, “Race In The Writers’ Room: How Hollywood Whitewashed the Stories that Shape America,” 65 percent of all writers’ rooms have zero Black writers, and less than 5 percent of writers were Black.
“There’s a really dire need for writers and creators to come on and tell our own stories,” Waithe told The Atlantic. “I was in D.C. and I was honored to go to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
“To be a Black person is to come from a long bloodline of survivors and storytellers, with a resilience that people can’t even comprehend. I walked out of there a different person.
“I stood in front of Emmett Till’s casket. Without telling our stories, we will be forgotten.”