Who is Lena Waithe? Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve heard of this ultra-talented writer, actress, producer, and director.
As a Hollywood powerhouse, you probably know her from her work on Netflix’s “Master of None” or for creating the hit Showtime original “The Chi.”
Here are 12 facts to know about Lena Waithe, including little known insights about her childhood, her creative path, and her unusual rise to fame.
1. Lena Waithe is From Chicago
Lena Waithe was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago, where she was raised by her mother and grandmother.
As a youngster, she and her sister attended Turner-Drew Elementary School. She moved to Evanston, a suburb north of Chicago, at 12. There she attended Chute Middle School and then Evanston Township High School.
After high school, she went to Columbia College, where she earned a degree in cinema and television arts. In her senior year, she completed the Columbia College Chicago’s Semester Program in LA. She made the permanent move to Los Angeles to begin a career in film.
2. She Started Working as a Production Assistant
After making the move to Los Angeles, she landed her first job as a production assistant for Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball” director). She soon became a production assistant on Ava Duvernay’s “I Will Follow.”
Lena also made her way to the set of the UPN/CW hit sitcom “Girlfriends” as an assistant for Mara Brock Akil.
If that wasn’t enough, she also worked as a production assistant on “The Secret Life of Bees” and “Notorious.”
3. She Made Her Acting Debut on “The Comeback”
Aside from her roles in “Ready Player One” and “Master of None,” she worked alongside Lisa Kudrow on the tv show “The Comeback.”
In the episode, she played a critic who interviewed Kudrow’s character. Although this quick cameo is nowhere near her later work, it’s quite the acting debut.
4. Her Breakout Role was on “Master of None”
Most people became familiar with Lena when she starred with Aziz Ansari on Master of None. She played Ansari’s character’s friend, Denise.
Here’s a fun fact: Lena’s character wasn’t originally supposed to be black and gay. However, Ansari thought that the character should reflect Lena.
Lena had many writing credits on the show, but her most notable episode was “Thanksgiving,” which earned her an Emmy.
5. She’s an Emmy Award Winner
As briefly mentioned above, Lena won an Emmy in 2017 for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. Not only did she snag gold, but she made history, too.
On that night, she became the first African-American woman to be nominated and win in the category. The winning episode “Thanksgiving” was based on Lena’s real-life experience coming out to her family.
Both that episode and her Emmy win have significance for the LBGTQ community. In her acceptance speech, she said: “And last but certainly not least, my LGBTQIA family. I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers.”
Well said, Lena!
6. Lena Waithe is Seriously Funny
If it wasn’t evident by her work in Master of None, Lena Waithe is a master of comedy. In 2014, Variety named her as one of its “10 Comedians to Watch”.
According to the write-up, she wrote material for YouTube Paradoy “Sh*t Black Girls Say.” Her quick wit landed her a writing gig on the TV show “Bones.”
Not only is Lena a talented comedic writer, but she has a knack for drama as well.
7. Creator and Producer of Showtime’s The Chi
Lena Waithe brought a humanized look of Chicago to millions of small screens with “The Chi.” “The Chi” depicts the interconnected and complicated lives of average Chicagoans living on the Southside.
She based the premise of the show on her own upbringing on the Southside of Chicago.
In a New York Times article, she says: “I wanted to humanize them and show that their lives are valid…but I don’t paint us in a perfect light at all. My hope is that I can show us in an honest way…”
8. Lena is Co-Chair of the Committee of Black Writers
Lena Waithe strives to give more Black writers a seat at the table as a co-chair of the Committee of Black Writers. She also co-founded a networking group called Black Women Who Brunch.
9. She’s an Advocate for the LGBTQ Community
Lena Waithe is a significant activist in the LGBTQ community. Her activism was awarded when she was given the GLAAD Media Award. She was honored for bringing more LGBTQ representation in television and film.
10. Lena Married (and Divorced) Longtime Girlfriend Alana Mayo
Early in 2019, Lena quietly tied the knot with longtime girlfriend, Alana Mayo. They were engaged on Thanksgiving Day in 2017 and married two years later in 2019 at a San Francisco, California, courthouse.
Did this Hollywood couple have an elaborate wedding? Nope. They reportedly got married in front of Harvey Milk’s bust. Way to keep it simple, while simultaneously celebrating the storied history of LGBTQ+ rights and the struggle for marriage equality.
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Unfortunately, the marrige didn’t last long, as Alana Mayo filed for divorce from Waith by November 2020.
11. She Gained Inspiration From Black 90’s Sitcoms
As already mentioned, Lena has a commitment and talent for bringing black stories into mainstream media. Where did she get her inspiration?
Lena cites television shows like “A Different World.” She credits the creators of shows like that for paving the way and making a space for black artists.
12. She’s Writer of “Queen and Slim”
Lena Waithe’s recent project “Queen and Slim” recently hit theaters, and critics are buzzing. She teamed up with Melina Matsoukas to deliver this powerful film following a couple on the run—played by Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Tuner-Smith.
The movie had its world premiere at the AFI (American Film Institute) Fest on November 14, 2019 and was released in U.S. theaters shortly thereafter on November 27, 2019.
Also in 2019, Amazon Studios approved two seasons of Waithe’s next project, a horror anthology series, called Them. The first season will witness the two lead characters, Lucky and Alfred Emory, as they move their family from North Carolina to an all-white neighborhood in Los Angeles.
As described by Waithe, “The first season will speak to how frightening it was to be black in 1953. It will also remind us that being black in 2018 is just as horrifying.” The sci-fi series will keep viewers on the edge of their seat, with both real and supernatural forces haunting the couple.
The series will explore the horrors that can hide within your neighborhood, on your street, and in the house next door, begging the question, do you really know your neighbors?
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