Entertainment // March 24, 2014
Hollywood is much like playing the tables in Las Vegas. Success takes a touch of good fortune and a great deal of skill. Lena Waithe has both. A Chicago native, this Writer/Producer has taken the LA scene by storm. Just this past year, her film “Dear White People” graced Sundance audiences, her web-series “Hello Cupid" charmed small screen viewers, and she dropped a preview of her upcoming series “Twenties”– on which she’s partnered with Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit Productions. And just this past weekend “Dear White People” was acquired by Lionsgate and Roadside Pictures. Waithe’s future is bright and she’s been sure to bring fellow creatives and close friends along on the journey. After returning from Sundance’s whirlwind, which she self-described as “life changing,” Waithe took a few moments to chat with me about her creative vision.
MW: At what point did you realize you were a writer?
LW: I knew I wanted to be a television writer when I was 7. I saw a different world and I thought, whatever this is, I want to be a part of it. I was a child with a vision – always a big reader. I loved writing and television. So, this combined my favorite things.
I studied all the greats and great television can transcend time. It’s one of the reasons I take such pride in what I do.
MW: Is there a common thread in the stories you tell?
LW: Honestly, I think I’m really good at writing female relationships. Whether they be familial, romantic, platonic, or messy. I like writing about the relationships that women have with each other.
MW: If you could accomplish one thing with your voice, what would it be?
LW: To do what A Different World did for me, for someone else - allow people to see a better version of themselves and help them realize that the world is bigger than their backyard. A big thing too, is that I’d like to hold up a mirror to reflect the faces that are looking at it. I really want people to feel a connection to the characters that I write.
MW: Where do you think current programming is lacking in that regard?
LW: I think there’s a lot of aspirational stuff, which is fine. There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t require characters to look inward. Usually, when you see a show that’s well done – it has a great impact because it’s really about flawed characters that are self-aware and are really trying to improve themselves. It’s about them trying to be better people. And I think that’s every human being’s journey. That’s why people hook into these characters more than these glossy characters with these fabulous lives.
MW: What creatives have helped influence your process?
LW: A person who really is my all-time hero is Susan Fales-Hill. She started out as an intern on The Cosby Show and Dr. Cosby thought she’d be a great fit for A Different World. I got a chance to sit down and have coffee with her. She’s very classy, and played a huge role in setting the stage for Mara Brock Akil and Shonda Rhimes. She has influenced my whole career. When we finally met, it was full-circle moment for me.
MW: What has been the most difficult part of your career and how did you overcome it?
LW: The difficult part is writing and rewriting bad scripts when you first start. That’s the hardest part. Everything you do isn’t going to be as great as you want it to be – it’s just not. That process of learning how to take notes and trying to find your voice – that’s hard. All this stuff about the industry, everyone is going to have a tough time. This is a hard business period. But to me the hard part is the internal journey to continue to go on and become the artist you want to be.
LW:Be great in whatever it is that you do. If you aren’t great at it, then everything you’re doing now should be working towards becoming great. When you’re great, good things will happen.
To those of you who jumped ahead to find out what’s next for Ms. Waithe, she kept things close to the chest. Good news: she says that great things are “brewing,” "Twenties" has found a home and Justin Semien ("Dear White People") will be involved, and there’s a secret project in the works with Issa Rae. It’s nice to know that the house doesn’t always win.
Follow Lena on Twitter: @hillmangrad