In September, Lena Waithe became the first African-American woman to take home an Emmy award for comedic writing for her work on “Thanksgiving,” an episode that chronicling her coming out story, on Netflix’s “Master of None.” However, the history-making win almost didn’t happen, given Waithe’s initial hesitance to tell the story, let alone write it herself.
Speaking at a Q&A at the 13th annual New York Television Festival on Tuesday night, Waithe revealed that she “never intended” on sharing her coming out story on-screen, and was confident in turning it down, if it wasn’t for the urging of “Master of None” creators Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari.
Waithe said the idea for “Thanksgiving” came about from a brainstorming session with Ansari and Yang. After Waithe detailed her coming out story, which she equated to a “one-woman-show version of the episode,” Yang and Ansari were instantly convinced that it would make a great addition to the series’ second season. However, Waithe needed some convincing.
“Literally I got back to my hotel and they both called me on the phone and were like, ‘Let’s do the episode. Let’s do it. You need to help us write it,’” Waithe said. “And I was like, ‘My plate’s too full. Not going to do that. But I trust you guys. Make it happen.’”
After some nudging from Ansari, who eventually helped Waithe co-write “Thanksgiving,” Waithe agreed to pen the episode. Though, she wants to set the record straight: the reason she originally turned the offer down wasn’t because she was lazy.
“Aziz was like, ‘No. I can’t be that specific. That’s your world. It’s very niche.’ So I was like, ‘OK,’” Waithe said. “He always says I didn’t want to do it because I was being lazy, but that’s not true. He’s the lazy one. That’s why he enlisted me. I just had a lot happening.”
And though the episode eventually led Waithe to an Emmy win months later, she doesn’t credit her achievement strictly to her talent. “The only reason that door was opened was because so many funny women of color have been beating on it for so many years prior,” Waithe said. “If I’m standing tall on that stage, it’s because I’m standing tall on their shoulders.”
Waithe credits black female writers like Susan Fales-Hill (“A Different World”), Yvette Lee Bowser (“Living Single”), and Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”) for pushing the needle forward, and hopes that her win will open similar doors for women of color in the future.
“My mission is to make sure I’m not the last,” she said, “it’s about making sure that other women of color not only have a seat at the table, but that they’re the best in the writer’s room. It’s not enough to have a seat at the table. You want to be so good that you sit at the head of it.”
(Pictured: Lena Waithe at the 69th Emmy Awards)