Before the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, Lena Waithe wasn’t a household name. Now that the proud Chicago native made history as the first African-American woman to win for comedy writing, everyone is asking, “Who’s that girl?”
The towering, tuxedo-clad screenwriter won for co-writing the “Thanksgiving” episode of “Master of None” with series co-creator and star, Aziz Ansari. Waithe has also had a recurring role as Ansari’s childhood friend on the Netflix comedy. The episode was based on her experience of coming out as a lesbian.
Ansari deferred his time at the mic to Waithe — who thanked her mother for “inspiring the story,” Ansari for “pushing” her to co-write the episode, and Netflix and Universal “for creating a beautiful playground” on which to work.
In her passionate Emmy acceptance speech, she called out the importance of diversity in entertainment and the culture at large.
“The things that make us different — those are our superpowers,” she said.
Waithe made special mention of her “LGBTQIA family” and urged viewers who feel outside of the mainstream to don a superhero cape every day “and go out there and conquer the world. It would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.”
And to her girlfriend, content executive Alana Mayo, Waithe said, “I love you more than life itself.” She also called out her “family” in the LGBTQIA community. “I see each and every one of you,” Waithe said. “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.”
“And to everybody out there who showed us so much love with this episode,” she concluded, “thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little queer black girl from the South Side of Chicago. We appreciate it more than you could ever know.”
Chance the Rapper, Janelle Monae and Ellen DeGeneres were among the celebrities overjoyed by Waithe and Ansari’s win.”Your speech was incredible,” DeGeneres wrote.
A Wrinkle In Time‘s Ava DuVernay, who made history herself as the first woman of color to direct a $100 million movie, also tweeted, “For anyone w/ a dream, know how hard the great @LenaWaithe worked for hers. Congrats on your win, Lena. History has its eyes on you!”
Waithe’s career is on the rise. She’s about to launch an autobiographical Showtime series, The Chi, about her coming of age years in Chicago. She’s also developing other TV projects.
Listen to an in-depth interview with Waithe on Elvis Mitchell’s KCRW podcast, “The Treatment.”