The writer-turned-actor reflects on her recent Emmy win and previews her 'raw' new series
Fresh off a historic Emmy win for her deeply personal and hilarious Master of None episode, “Thanksgiving,” 33-year-old writer and actor Lena Waithe wants you to know this is only the beginning.
“I plan on being here a long time,” she tells EW. “I plan on building a brand and building a legacy that others can follow and come and tell their stories.”
It’s been just over a month since Aziz Ansari and Waithe, or as she described them in her acceptance speech, “a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little queer black girl from the South Side of Chicago,” made history with their win for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. Becoming the first African-American woman to win in the category, Waithe gave a rousing speech aimed at the LGBTQIA community. “I see each and every one of you,” she declared. “The things that make us different, those are our superpowers. Every day when you walk out the door, put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful as it is without us in it.”
“I knew it was bigger than me,” she says of the victory, which was for an episode based on her own coming-out experience. “I was telling a story of what it means to be a queer person and I thought it was important to really shed light on us. Because when someone acknowledges one of us, they acknowledge all of us. The big thing for me was to celebrate and say that the things that make us different are our superpowers. It does make us stand out — we’re not less than, it almost makes us cooler than. We’ve got to use these things to propel us rather than hold us back.”
That night, Donald Glover, Sterling K. Brown, and Riz Ahmed joined Waithe and Ansari in taking home Emmys, marking an important step for diversity in television. Post-show, Waithe got to celebrate with her fellow winners, which meant being picked up and twirled around by Brown. “We’re all fans of each other,” she shares. “There’s a real genuine love and respect.”
The admiration was apparent in the internet’s favorite moment of the evening: A photo on Ahmed’s Instagram of The Night Of star, Waithe, Glover, and his brother Stephen (who’s also an Atlanta writer, pictured holding one of his sibling’s two trophies earned that night), captioned, “We’re here.” It’s a message that Waithe calls “poignant,” joking that she’s going to get a tattoo of it. “I like to call us the resurgence,” she says with a smile. “It’s more than a moment. We’re here, we’re going to stay here, and we’re always going to be here.”
She’s clearly not going anywhere anytime soon. In addition to possible future Master duties (she doesn’t know if there will be a third season), the writer-turned-actor, whose diverse résumé includes working as a writer on Bones and as a PA for Ava DuVernay, more than has her plate full with a role in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One and returning to her hometown for her very own series.
“I never thought I’d write about the city, but I just got to a place in my life where I think it was so misunderstood,” she says of Showtime’s The Chi, which premieres Jan. 7. “It’s a different side of my voice, about being black and human and trying to survive and have a dream. It’s raw. It’s real. I’m not sugar-coating. It’s not, ‘Let’s show black people in Chicago in a positive light.’ It’s, ‘I want to show people in a human light.’”
Despite her onscreen Master success as Dev’s (Aziz Ansari) childhood friend and conscience Denise, Waithe is staying behind the camera on The Chi, serving as writer and producer. And if she has anything to say about it, that’s most likely where you will find her in the future. “The acting opportunities have to be extremely special, because writing is my first love,” shares Waithe. “I was born a television writer, I’ll die a television writer.”