Students cheer as Lena Waithe takes the stage with effortless elegance paired with a fierce stride. It’s May 15, and ASPB is hosting “In conversation with Lena Waithe” in HUB 302. Waithe has acted in several projects such as “Master of None” and “Ready Player One” and her own creation, “The Chi,” had a successful run in its first season on Showtime this past winter.
She starts off the night by speaking about her choice of wardrobe at the Met Gala earlier this month, where she donned a rainbow cape that also included a black and brown stripe. Waithe says she wanted to wear a rainbow pride flag cape because, of all things, she thought “it would be fly.” She adds that she wanted to include black and brown stripes to include people of color, believing her choice of clothing allowed her to make a statement.
2018 has been a career-defining year for the actor, and Waithe spoke on the impact she has made in roles like the iconic Thanksgiving episode of “Master of None” and the visceral series “The Chi.” In the Thanksgiving episode, Waithe plays Denise, best friends with the main character Dev (Aziz Ansari), and the audience is able to see Waithe’s struggles as a woman of the LGBTQ community as Denise’s mother refuses to accept she is a lesbian. She believes the industry should be a reflection of the society we live in today. Waithe clarifies, “Everyone should be represented. It should be like a mirror. Not all groups are represented. It’s about how honest can I make this moment?” Waithe says her intent is not to be inspirational or send a particular message, but says she wants her work of art to depict what our society is like today, and even compares her artwork to a time capsule. She believes art is meant to be shared and she wants to share what it is like to be black and queer in 2018.
Naturally, the conversation moved to how Waithe deals with the criticism and discrimination she faces as an African-American lesbian woman in the industry. She immediately responds, “If I were not a gay black female, the Thanksgiving episode would not exist. I don’t look at it as a thing I have to battle. I’m just trying to do the best work that I could and I just happen to be a black woman. It’s a myth that it follows you around. Do you think about how you are left-handed when walking into a meeting?” In addition, Waithe adds that she doesn’t let her opposition affect her in any way. She explains, “Not to say I’m above it. I don’t feel like that’s my experience, now it could be. Maybe I’m ignoring it, but you can’t spend too much time criticizing the world or thinking about how the world criticizes you.”
After the interview was conducted, a Q&A session began where members of the audience were able to ask her questions. She was mostly asked questions about her work ethic and what she personally observes in our society today. She explains how first, she believes she is different from everybody else, and has made great sacrifices to get to where she is today. “I sacrificed time. No, I can’t just go kick it. I dont think I’m greater than everyone else. I’m just built differently,” she explains .“Background singers are the ones who did not make it. It’s not depressing because you don’t have the performance, you don’t have a song if there isn’t someone in the background. Somebody’s gotta sing the hook. I think there’s an element of embracing that.”
Though she wouldn’t admit it, Waithe no longer exists in the backdrop. If her 2018 is indicative of anything, it is that the tireless work ethic put in by those supremely talented in the background will help them rise to the forefront, breaking social and cultural barriers on their way to success.