“It Doesn’t Work That Way.” Lena Waithe Says When It Comes To Aziz Ansari, She’s Not Picking Sides
With the recent success of her show The Chi, many fans are becoming increasingly aware of Lena Waithe’s talent as a writer and show creator. If you’ve been following what seems like Waithe’s rapid rise to success, you already know that one of her first big writing projects was inspired by none other than comedian, Aziz Ansari. Ansari gave Waithe a shot at writing an episode for his Netflix series, Master of None. The “Thanksgiving” episode was based on Waithe’s own experience coming out as a lesbian and she made history in 2017 as the first black woman to be awarded an Emmy for comedy writing for her contribution. Waithe has thanked Ansari in the past, once telling an audience at The New York Television Festival that had it not been for the urging of her co-stars Ansari and Alan Yang, the episode may have never existed:
“Literally I got back to my hotel and they both called me on the phone and were like, ‘Let’s do the episode. Let’s do it. You need to help us write it.’”
Fast forward to 2018 and both Waithe and Ansari regularly appear in headlines but for vastly different reasons. Waithe is still receiving accolades for The Chi, which has just been renewed for a second season on Showtime after airing only four episodes. Her friend Ansari, however, has been the center of a debate over what qualifies as consent and sexual misconduct after the website Babe published the account of an anonymous woman who goes by the name of “Grace” for a piece in which she accuses the 34-year-old comedian of pressuring her into sex on a date. In the piece, after dinner and drinks, the pair end up in Ansari’s apartment and both engage in sexual activity although the woman says she put out plenty of verbal cues that she wasn’t comfortable with what was happening. The next day she recalls sending a text to Ansari explaining that she was indeed not cool with what took place to which Ansari promptly apologizes. When the story broke late last year many feminists expressed a sense of betrayal since the former star of Parks and Recreation has been very vocal with his support for the #MeToo movement, but some critics picked the story apart and noted that the account was nothing more than a bad date and couldn’t be placed in the same category of some of the sexual assault allegations that had been made against entertainment industry figures like Harvey Weinstein and Russell Simmons.
Since the Babe story broke, many have wondered how Waithe feels against the allegations against her friend and colleague. In an interview with KPCC’s The Frame,the 33-year-old shares when it comes to the allegations of sexual misconduct plaguing the entertainment industry, no two experiences are exactly alike:
“Here’s the truth — in every situation, it’s not always black-and-white. And I know that’s simple for people, and it’s easy for people to [ask], Whose side are you on? There are no sides, really, in some of these scenarios.”
“I’m not on Harvey Weinstein’s side, I’m not on Kevin Spacey’s side. But I think you have to take each situation [individually]. You can’t just say, Well, I’m on this person’s team or I’m on that person’s team. It doesn’t work that way.”
She also states that much more needs to be done then a hashtag to erase rape culture:
“We won’t get anywhere if these kinds of topics aren’t explored in detail.”
She also says that rules need to be clearly defined by not just individuals, but society as a whole:
“I think there’s an element of — how do you know if you’re breaking a rule if you aren’t aware of the rules? Or how do you know what appropriate behavior is if no one’s ever communicated to you what appropriate behavior is?”
“Even though some people may assume, ‘Well, of course we all know what appropriate behavior is,’ but some people may not know.”
“I think if we’re unwilling to have a dialogue we’re gonna continue to keep hitting our heads against the wall. We have to start re-educating ourselves about what consent is, what’s appropriate behavior at the workplace. We have to create codes of conduct. Those are things that we need.”
“It’s about really sitting with yourself and educating yourself in terms of what consent is, what it looks like, what it feels like, what it sounds like. And all of us starting to really act accordingly based on this new information that I think we have now. We all gotta start talking to each other, start educating each other.”
Waithe makes an interesting point that much more needs to happen to make change besides blame and banishment. When accusations first broke against Ansari many feminists banded together to exile the comedian from what seemed like an exclusive feminist’s club. But how can we expect changes in behavior is we keep shutting men out of the conversation? Men like Ansari, Harvey Weinstein and Russell Simmons weren’t just trolls hanging our underneath a bridge preying on women. They have mothers, sisters, daughter and wives and we all need to understand that many of them are products of something much bigger that has enabled and excused their behavior. We also need to understand that there are great people who have very questionable moments in a way that doesn’t minimize the pain they have caused others. In some way many of us contribute to rape culture and if we hope to change that narrative we need to start being clear about what consent, respect and healthy sexuality looks like as a society.