Lena Waithe To Be Honored as the Shot Caller Celebrant

Shot Caller Celebrant

Written by BET Staff

Published August 21st

"Your first obligation as a writer is to tell the truth and to tell a good story." - Lena Waithe

Lena Waithe is the first black woman to be honored with an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Writing. 'The Chi' creator is well known for her ability to bring to life the narratives of LGBTQIA characters, as well as crafting roles that humanize characters of color, who are most often treated as props for entertainment.

Born May 17, 1984 in Chicago, Lena's passion for television writing began from an early age with Black family-centric shows like The Cosby ShowA Different World, Moesha and Good Times, helping to develop a strong sense of story and dialogue. Lena attended Columbia College Chicago, graduating with a Cinema and Television Arts degree in 2006.

Soon after, Waithe began working her way up by becoming a writer for Fox's crime show Bones and Nickelodeon's sitcom How to Rock, as well as producing a variety of web series and short films.

Lena Waithe started out assisting Love and Basketball director Gina Prince-Bythewood and later worked as a production assistant for director Ava DuVernay. In 2014, Variety named Waithe as one of its "10 Comedians to Watch".

Hustling her way to the top, she entered into the world of Netflix as a producer for Dear White People, allowing her to showcase her innate skills. But her rising success story does not stop there, the next year Waithe made a mainstream splash on the Netflix comedy series Master of None starring Aziz Ansari. Waithe's contributions not only come from a writing perspective, but she also plays a supporting role as Denise, to Ansari's character Dev. The "Thanksgiving" episode that took Waithe's career to the next level was personally penned by Lena herself, and was a depiction of some of her real-life experiences coming out to her mother. Waithe took home an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series in 2017, a win that was pivotal for black women, as well as the gay community. 

“I love you all and last but certainly not least my LGBTQIA family,” Waithe went on. “I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers — every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.

Lena Waithe was not only a triumph for the industry's awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion in media and storytelling. Waithe is a strong advocate for bringing new voices to mainstream media by trailblazing the way for other writers, producers, creators and creatives to present their stories.

Waithe keeps busy developing new projects and her latest collaboration, The Chi, with Showtime premiered in January 2018 and was picked up for a second season. The series, produced by Common is a look into some of Lena Waithe's personal experience growing up in the South Side of Chicago.

"The hardest thing about being a black writer in this town is having to pitch your black story to white execs," she told Vanity Fair in 2018. "Also, most of the time when we go into rooms to pitch, there’s one token black executive that sometimes can be a friend and sometimes can be a foe. I wonder if they think it makes me more comfortable, if that makes me think that they’re a woke network or studio because they’ve got that one black exec. It feels patronizing. I’m not against a black exec. I want there to be more of them."

And Lena Waithe's ability to break barriers and take on authentic storytelling in Hollywood has not gone unnoticed; in February Essence honored Waithe as a young Black women in film and television who has fearlessly navigated Hollywood and inspired those around her to take the concept of representation to new heights. In March 2018 received a big-screen break as a star in Steven Spielberg's sci-fi adventure Ready Player One. Lena Waithe was honored with the Trailblazer Award at the MTV Movie & TV Awards this past June for her undeniable efforts to create and share untold and refreshing stories in th entertainment industry. She's also tirelessly working on another TV project called Twenties, which TBS has recently expressed interest in developing.

In addition to her work on-screen and behind the scenes, Waithe works with The Black List to mentor young, diverse writers. To say Waithe is shaking up the Hollywood community and breaking boundaries is an understatment, but according to Lena, there is still much more work to be done.

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