Earlier this year, Lena Waithe became the first black woman to be nominated for an Emmy for comedy writing for her work on “Thanksgiving,” one of the best and most acclaimed episodes of the last season of Netflix’s Master of None. But Waithe is by no means resting on her laurels. She’s also producing her own series for Showtime called The Chi, has a role in the upcoming Steven Spielberg film Ready Player One, and has been getting Whoopi Goldberg on the phone (okay, that’s an old story).
Waithe sat down for an interview with The Atlantic to talk about her career, the challenge in “selling complex minority characters,” and what her experience has been navigating Hollywood. And in true Lena Waithe fashion, she told it the way it was, giving us some really interesting insight on what it’s like for women of color in entertainment:
Honestly, [I learned about] decorum and the way specifically black women have to carry themselves in this industry. You can’t be pissed about a note, you can’t be angry about the way that something is happening, you can’t be unhappy about the creative process. When you handle it, you have to be Claire Underwood in House of Cards.
In that town, there is still a stigma that goes along with being a woman, particularly a woman of color, where people already want to label you difficult or not easy to work with. It’s happened to me. So we ultimately have to navigate this industry in a different way. We have to sometimes be kind to people who aren’t kind to us, we sometimes have to be polite, even when we’re not in the mood, we have to handle dealing with executives in a different way because otherwise we run the risk of being put in industry jail.
We’ve seen the films and shows. We’ve seen the data. We know for a fact that women of color are immensely underrepresented in entertainment, even though Hollywood is (slowly) waking up to the fact that it’s not the people “in charge” who are creating the culture that people actually want. But hearing what the experience is actually like, and what it takes to keep moving forward, is important and makes the success of women like Ava Duvernay, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Shonda Rhimes, and Waithe herself all the more notable.
Read the full interview here.