“My Mission Is To Humanize The People Of The City.” Lena Waithe Shares Backstory Of That “Thanksgiving” Episode And Upcoming Project “Chi”
Master of None is a hilarious, but still severely slept on little show by comedian Aziz Ansari that tackles the experience of being a millennial American through the eyes of different cultures without making us feel like he’s attempting to fill some kind of quota. If you’re a fan, you may have caught one of the stars Lena Waithe truly step into her role as main character’s Dev’s best friend, Denise, a super dope chic who just happens to be an African-American lesbian. The episode “Thanksgiving” was recently nominated for an Emmy and centers around Denise’s experience coming out to her family. Waithe recently sat down with EBONY to share if and how the episode reflected her own reality. The 33-year-old shares she didn’t actually feel all that compelled to tell the story at first:
“I think for me as an artist I never had a desire to tell that story, per se. I just felt like I want to show queer people, particularly a queer Black woman, post that part of her life. Dating, hanging out with her friends, kicking it [and] having a certain kind of swag. I feel like most of our stories tend to be coming-of-age, which happens to include a coming out theme. When do we get past that?”
She goes on to explain that Ansari and co-writer Alan Yang convinced her the show would tackle the experience in a way that hasn’t been shown before, and Ansari even worked around Waithe’s busy schedule at the time (Waithe was working in London) to make sure her writing, and not just her story was a part of it:
“I just told it to them in the writer’s room. I was like, ‘You guys will still write it and come back and tell me what we’re shooting.’ They were like, ‘Nah, we need your writing too. We need you to help us with it.’”
She also talked about how personal and scary the writing process was, but she’s thankful to her colleagues or giving her the opportunity:
“What we shot is 90% of what we wrote in that hotel room in London. It was fantastic and the process was really cool. I had never really written with somebody like that.”
“It’s a scary thing to come out. It’s a place I don’t go back to every day, but to kind of just sit in it and to relive that, to know I survived it, to know I came through it was really powerful. It was a really amazing experience. And for people to respond to it the way they have I think is just revolutionary.”
“It really is a tribute to my family. It’s a tribute to how strong you have to be to come out not just to your mom, but to yourself, to your friends and to the world. It really just was a wonderful gift that Aziz and Alan gave me. I didn’t even realize at the time that it was such a huge gift. But I’m just glad that we got to do it.”
Waithe also shared what she hopes to accomplish with The Chi, an hour-long drama recently picked up by the Showtime network which Deadline describes as, “a relevant, timely and distinctive coming-of-age story and follows a half dozen interrelated characters in the South Side of Chicago.” Waithe says she hopes to shatter the broken image some have of the city:
“My mission is to humanize the people of the city. I ask that people be patient with us in the first season, we’re trying to figure it out. It’s not just me. I have a lot of producing partners that work with me on the show. I think my biggest thing is definitely to maintain the integrity of the city. That’s my goal.”
She reveals Common, a fellow Chicago native, along with his team are also helping with the show for which she wrote the pilot for a few years ago.
You can check out the infamous “Thanksgiving” episode in Season 2 of Master of None which is currently streaming on Netflix. You at least have to watch it for Kym Whitley’s line about the sweet potatoes alone. You can also read Waithe’s exclusive interview with EBONY here.