Lena Waithe understands the significance of her visibility as a Black and openly gay woman in television and film. She acknowledged as much when she became the first Black woman to win the Emmy for “Writing for a Comedy Series,” which she accepted with a speech celebrating her “LGBQTIA family” last year. While some artists might avoid the responsibility of representing their community on screen, Waithe told The New York Times that she enthusiastically accepts that weight.
“I’m proud to carry that torch and be like ‘I’m gay! I’m Black! Hang your dreams on me. Hang your hopes on me. I’ll carry them to the best of my ability,’” she told The Times, which published the profile online yesterday (January 2).
Much of story explores Waithe’s creation of “The Chi,” a series set in her hometown that debuts Sunday (January 7) on Showtime. The ensemble drama focuses on a multigenerational group of Chicagoans of color whose lives and aspirations intersect though a series of random events. Waithe told The Times that she hopes the show can break past the racist and dehumanizing stereotypes that follow most public discussions about gun violence in the Windy City:
“My mission is to show these young Black men are not born with a gun in their hand,” Ms. Waithe said over brunch earlier that day at a downtown diner. “These are kids who come out with all the promise and hope that any other kid does.”
“I wanted to humanize them and show that their lives are valid,” she added. “But I don’t paint us in a perfect light at all. My hope is that I can show us in an honest way. That’s it. Not bad. Not perfect. Just accurate.”
Waithe pursued this goal by making sure the production centered Chicago in as many production details as possible:
Common, a fellow Chicago native who is an executive producer and one of the stars of “The Chi,” said Ms. Waithe stressed during filming how important it was for the show to pay homage to her city. “And so we’ve got a mission to be as authentic as we can,” he said. They employed a crew comprised almost entirely of locals, shot on location and filled the soundtrack exclusively with music by Chicago artists like Chance the Rapper and Kanye West.
The profile also chronicles Waithe’s professional journey, incorporating quotes from her most famous colleagues. “A Wrinkle in Time” director Ava DuVernay talks about hiring Waithe as an assistant on her first film, “I Will Follow”:
“She was this wonderful, funny, passionate young woman who would just do whatever it took from locking up to getting coffee to cleaning up,” said Ms. DuVernay, who would go on to direct “Selma.” When the film wrapped production, Ms. DuVernay encouraged Ms. Waithe to chart her own creative course and not wait around for opportunities to be offered.
Ms. Waithe embraced the advice, writing and directing her own short film, “Save Me,” which landed her writing and production jobs on shows like “Bones” and “Dear White People.” In 2014, she wrote the pilot script for “The Chi,” and it quickly attracted interest from several networks.
Waithe also commented on the ongoing conversation about casting and hiring diversity in the entertainment industry. “We are not in the same world anymore,” she said. “Even White people are tired of watching White people’s shows.”
Read the full profile at NYTimes.com.