Campus News

Emmy award winning screenwriter, actor talks being black, queer

Lena Waithe, an Emmy award winning screenwriter, producer and actress, spoke as the Black History Month keynote speaker, fielding questions on her experience in the entertainment industry and identity as a queer woman of color.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Lena Waithe, an Emmy award winning screenwriter, producer and actress, spoke as the Black History Month keynote speaker, fielding questions on her experience in the entertainment industry and identity as a queer woman of color.

Though Waithe is part of a community that is often seen as underrepresented in the entertainment industry, she told the audience at Union South that she uses her race and sexual orientation to her advantage.

“I think sometimes we can get caught up in our otherness and think of it as a hurdle, but the truth is, it’s actually a superpower,” she said. “People actually tend to embrace my otherness, because I’m different and that’s what people want.”

In fact, Waithe told The Daily Cardinal she thinks the entertainment industry is progressing, noting her achievement of being the first African American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series,

“The entertainment industry is a heightened version of society — the world at large looks at Hollywood to get a sense of where we are as a society,” Waithe said. “I think my win for the Emmy is a sign that society is actually a lot more compassionate than we give ourselves credit for.”

But the entertainment industry still has a lot of work to do in giving African American artists a voice to tell their stories, she said.

“For me to be the first African American woman to receive that award was to make that moment bigger than me,” Waithe said. “We’re applauding ourselves, but we should also be criticizing ourselves that it took us this long to celebrate women of color.”

According to Waithe, her goal as an artist is to continue impacting others through her work.

“As long as my work is touching people, then I will never be forgotten,” she said. “It’s about how it makes you feel — that is the legacy.”

Nia Scott — one of the two UW student moderators and a member of the black and LGBT community — said Waithe’s success made her realize that the future is possible.

Waithe said reactions like Scott’s are why she loves her job.

“Your reaction to that is a gift,” she said. “I just want to keep leading by example.”

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