Lena Waithe

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Lena Waithe
Lena Waithe by Gage Skidmore.jpg
Waithe at the 2018 WonderCon
Born (1984-05-17) May 17, 1984 (age 35)
Alma materColumbia College Chicago
  • Screenwriter
  • producer
  • actress
Years active2007–present
Alana Mayo (m. 2019)

Lena Waithe (born May 17, 1984)[1] is an American screenwriter, producer, and actress. She starred in the Netflix comedy-drama series Master of None (2015–2017).[2][3][4] She became the first black woman to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series in 2017 for writing the show's "Thanksgiving" episode, which was loosely based on her personal experience of coming out to her mother.[5][6]

Waithe is also the creator of the 2018 Showtime drama series The Chi, and has appeared in the 2018 adventure film Ready Player One.[7]

Early life[edit]

Waithe was born in Chicago, Illinois.[8][9] Though acting was not originally among Waithe's ambitions,[10][11] she knew from the age of seven that she wanted to be a television writer, and received strong family support for her writing from her single mother and grandmother:[2] Her parents had divorced when she was three; Waithe's father died when she was fourteen.[12] Waithe and her sister grew up on the South Side of Chicago until Waithe was age twelve, and attended a local, mostly African-American elementary magnet school, Turner-Drew[7] but moved to Evanston and finished middle school at Chute Middle School.[13] She graduated from Evanston Township High School and earned a degree in Cinema and Television Arts[14] from Columbia College Chicago in 2006,[3][11][15] praising faculty playwright Michael Fry for his teaching and encouragement.[15][16] Finding more ways to involve herself in the television and film industry, she also worked at a movie theater as well as the media department of a Blockbuster.[17] She moved to Los Angeles in 2006, supported by a locational transfer of her aforementioned Blockbuster job, to begin pursuing her true ambitions.[17]


Having arrived in Los Angeles, Waithe secured a job as an assistant to the executive producer of Girlfriends, a long running sitcom.[17] Soon after, she landed a minor role in Lisa Kudrow's The Comeback.[17] She later became a writer for the Fox television series Bones,[10] a writer for the 2012 Nickelodeon sitcom How to Rock, and a producer on the 2014 satirical comedy film Dear White People.[18] Waithe wrote and appeared in the YouTube series "Twenties" which was produced by Flavor Unit Entertainment and optioned in 2014 by BET.[19][20] In addition to writing and directing the short film "Save Me", which was shown at several independent film festivals,[21] Waithe wrote the 2013 web series "Hello Cupid" and the 2011 viral video Shit Black Girls Say.[18]

In 2014, Variety named Waithe as one of its "10 Comedians to Watch".[19] In August 2015, Showtime network commissioned a pilot for an upcoming series, The Chi, written by Waithe and produced by Common, which tells a young urban Black-American man's coming-of-age story.[22] As the show's creator, Waithe's goal was to bring her experience growing up on the South Side and experiencing its diversity to craft a story that paints a more nuanced portrait of her hometown than is typically shown.[23] Similarly, Waithe continues to extend her influence to support the Black-American community in the entertainment industry through her role as co-chair of the Committee of Black Writers at the Writers Guild.[13] Waithe was cast in the Netflix series Master of None after meeting creator and lead actor Aziz Ansari who, with Alan Yang, had originally written Denise as a straight, white woman with the potential, according to Waithe, to evolve into one of the main character's love interests: "For some reason, [casting director] Allison Jones thought about me for it, a black gay woman."[2] Ansari and Yang rewrote the script to make the character more like Waithe: "All of us actors play heightened versions of ourselves."[2] She said, "I don't know if we've seen a sly, harem pants-wearing, cool Topshop sweatshirt-wearing, snapback hat-rocking lesbian on TV."[10] She also said, "I know how many women I see out in the world who are very much like myself. We exist. To me, the visibility of it was what was going to be so important and so exciting."[10]

In 2017, Waithe and Ansari won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for the season 2 episode "Thanksgiving".[24] She became the first Black-American woman to win an Emmy in that category.[24][25][26] Waithe described the episode as based on her coming out experience as a lesbian.[27] During her Emmy speech, she sent a special message to her LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual)[28] family discussing how "The things that make us different—those are our superpowers."[29] She ended her speech by recognizing her journey as a Black woman saying "Thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little queer black girl from the South Side of Chicago."[30] Waithe also developed an autobiographical drama series called The Chi.[31][32] Out Magazine named Waithe the Out100: Artist of the Year on November 8, 2017.[33]

Waithe wrote and produced the road trip/crime film Queen & Slim, starring Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya, directed by Melina Matsoukas. It was released on November 27, 2019, by Universal Pictures.[34]

When Waithe is not actively working on writing, acting, or producing, she works to recruit more people of color and queer artists for her film and television projects.[35]

Personal life[edit]

Waithe is a lesbian.[36] She has been in a relationship with Alana Mayo, a content executive,[37] for three years.[38] They became engaged on Thanksgiving Day 2017.[39] They were married in 2019, at a San Francisco courthouse.[40]

Waithe described her family as "lazy Christians" and said in 2018, "I'm a huge believer in God, and Jesus Christ, and that God made me and all those things. And I try to just be a good person. I think that is the base of my religion, is to be good, is to be honest."[41]



Year Title Role Notes
2011 Save Me Short film
Director and writer
2014 Dear White People Producer
2014 Ladylike Co-producer
2018 Step Sisters Producer
2018 Ready Player One Aech / Helen
2019 Queen & Slim Post-production
Co-story writer (with James Frey)
Co-producer (with Melina Matsoukas, Andrew Coles, Michelle Knudsen and James Frey)


Year Title Role Crew role, notes
2007–2008 Girlfriends Assistant to executive producer (2 episodes)
2012 M.O Diaries Writer
2012 How to Rock Writer (2 episodes)
2013 Hello Cupid Writer (7 episodes)
2014 Transparent Jane Episode: "Elizah"
2014 The Comeback Summer Episode: "Valerie Faces the Critics"
2014–2015 Bones Staff writer (15 episodes)
2015–2017 Master of None Denise Main role; Co-writer, "Thanksgiving" (with Aziz Ansari)
2018–present The Chi Creator, writer (4 episodes)
2018 This Is Us Animal Shelter Clerk Episode: "That'll Be the Day"
2018 Dear White People P. Ninny Guest (3 episodes)
2019 Boomerang Executive producer; Writer (2 episodes)
2020 Westworld


Year Nominated Work Organization Category Result
2017 Master of None (Episode: "Thanksgiving")
(with Aziz Ansari)
Emmy Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series Won
2018 N/A MTV Trailblazer Award Won
2015 Dear White People Black Reel Outstanding Motion Picture Nominated
2018 The Chi Black Reel Outstanding Drama Series Nominated
2017 Master of None Gold Derby Comedy Episode of the Year Won
2014 Dear White People Gotham Audience Award Nominated
2018 Ready Player One MTV Best on Screen Team Nominated
2018 Master of None Writers Guild of America Comedy Series Nominated
2015 Dear White People Film Independent Spirit Best First Feature Nominated
2017 N/A Out Artist of the Year Won
2017 N/A The Advocate Person of the Year Nominated


  1. ^ Rose, Lacey; O'Connell, Michael; Sandberg, Bryn Elise; Stanhope, Kate; Goldberg, Lesley (August 28, 2015). "Next Gen Fall TV: 10 Stars Poised for Breakouts". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 2, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d Garcia, Patricia (November 17, 2015). "Meet Lena Waithe, Master of None's Wisest and Funniest BFF". Vogue. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Zwecker, Bill (November 3, 2015). "Chicagoan Lena Waithe Plays Herself (Sort Of) In Aziz Ansari's Netflix Series". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
  4. ^ Falcone, Dana Rose (November 10, 2015). "Master of None cast reveal how they're just like their characters". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved November 25, 2015.
  5. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (September 18, 2017). "Lena Waithe Makes Emmy History as First Black Woman to Win for Comedy Writing". Variety. Retrieved October 12, 2017.
  6. ^ https://www.facebook.com/bethoniebutler. "Why Lena Waithe's historic Emmy win for 'Master of None' is so meaningful". Washington Post. Retrieved October 12, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Hyman, Dan (2018). "With 'The Chi,' Lena Waithe Heads Home in Search of the Real Chicago". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  8. ^ Swartz, Tracy (November 18, 2015). "Chicago-set pilot to be a mix of 'Fruitvale Station,' 'Crash'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved December 2, 2015.
  9. ^ Harris, Marquita (February 5, 2016). "Why We 'Should Be Embarrassed' About This Year's Oscars". Refinery29. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d Weidenfeld, Lisa (November 18, 2015). "'Master of None's' Lena Waithe Talks Accidental Stardom, 'Failure to Launch'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
  11. ^ a b Mast, Audrey Michelle (July 11, 2014). "Lena Waithe (BA '06)". Columbia College Chicago: Alumni Spotlights. Retrieved December 2, 2015.
  12. ^ Woodson, Jacqueline. "The Cover Story: Lena Waithe Is Changing the Game". HWD. Retrieved September 26, 2018.
  13. ^ a b Woodson, Jacqueline (April 2018). "The Cover Story: Lena Waithe Is Changing the Game". Vanity Fair. Retrieved October 3, 2018.
  14. ^ "Lena Waithe '06". Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  15. ^ a b "Millennial Hustle". DEMO Magazine. April 25, 2014. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  16. ^ "Associate Professor Michael Fry". Columbia College Chicago. Archived from the original on December 11, 2015. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
  17. ^ a b c d Haithcoat, Rebecca (January 5, 2018). "Master of None's Lena Waithe: 'If you come from a poor background, TV becomes what you dream about'". the Guardian. Retrieved September 26, 2018.
  18. ^ a b Goldberg, Lesley (August 11, 2015). "Showtime Orders Black Coming-of-Age Drama Produced by Common". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
  19. ^ a b Holman, Jordyn (July 1, 2014). "Comedian Lena Waithe Inks Deal With BET to Write Pilot 'Twenties' (Exclusive)". Variety. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  20. ^ Hasin, Sarvat (August 28, 2013). "On Making Mirrors". The Toast. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
  21. ^ Fox, Sarah (August 11, 2015). "Lena Waithe, Common to create coming of age drama series". The / Slanted. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
  22. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (January 9, 2017). "Showtime Gives Series Order to Drama 'The Chi'". Variety. Retrieved October 12, 2017.
  23. ^ Metz, Nina. "Writers and cast of Lena Waithe's 'The Chi' aim to show South Side in a different light". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved October 12, 2017.
  24. ^ a b Moniuszko, Sara M. (May 16, 2017). "Lena Waithe's powerful Emmys speech: Our differences 'are our superpowers'". USA Today. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
  25. ^ "Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series - 2017". Television Academy. Retrieved July 16, 2017.
  26. ^ Saraiya, Sonia. "Lena Waithe on Being the 1st Black Woman Nom'd for Comedy Writing Emmy". Variety. Retrieved August 6, 2017.
  27. ^ Villarreal, Yvonne (August 10, 2017). "How Lena Waithe's coming-out story inspired the 'Master of None' Thanksgiving episode". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved October 12, 2017.
  28. ^ "About the LGBTQIA Resource Center | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual Resource Center". lgbtqia.ucdavis.edu. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  29. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (September 18, 2017). "Lena Waithe Makes Emmy History as First Black Woman to Win for Comedy Writing". Variety. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  30. ^ "Read the Full Text of Master of None Writer Lena Waithe's Moving Emmys Speech". Time. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  31. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (September 17, 2017). "Lena Waithe Wins Emmy: First Black Woman to Get Comedy Writing Award". Variety. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
  32. ^ Andreeva, Nellie, "Showtime Picks Up Drama ‘The Chi’ To Series; Jason Mitchell Joins Cast – TCA", Deadline Hollywood, January 9, 2017.
  33. ^ "OUT100: Lena Waithe, Artist of the Year". November 8, 2017. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  34. ^ Jodie Smith-Turner to Star Opposite Daniel Kaluuya in ‘Queen & Slim’ (EXCLUSIVE)
  35. ^ Woodson, Jacqueline. "The Cover Story: Lena Waithe Is Changing the Game". HWD. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  36. ^ Leighton-Dore, Samuel (March 7, 2018). "Lena Waithe encourages closeted colleagues to "stop hiding" and come out". sbs.com.au. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  37. ^ "Alana Mayo | Professional Profile". Linked in. Retrieved December 1, 2017.[dead link]
  38. ^ "Lena Waithe Explains How She Got Into A Relationship With A Straight Woman". Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  39. ^ Missing, Natalie (December 19, 2017). "Lena Waithe Got Engaged on Thanksgiving, Is Truly Committed To Queering Thanksgiving". Autostraddle. Retrieved March 7, 2018.
  40. ^ Calvario, Liz (November 15, 2019). "Lena Waithe Reveals She Secretly Married Longtime Love Alana Mayo". Yahoo Entertainment. Retrieved November 16, 2019.
  41. ^ "'The Chi' Creator Lena Waithe Says Television 'Taught Me How To Dream'". NPR.org. January 11, 2018. Retrieved June 14, 2018.

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