You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Lena Waithe Is Using Her Influence to Help the Trevor Project Save Lives

“Be great.”

When Lena Waithe first heard those two words of advice from writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood, she admits she didn’t quite get the message. But as she got older, she grew to understand the power in owning her voice. So she’s adapted it into her own mantra: “Be phenomenal.”

“That is what I always strive to do — try to be phenomenal, try to be amazing,” she says. “I don’t want to do it if that’s not what it is. What’s the point? I don’t want to make something that is just OK. I don’t want to make something just for a check. I want to make something that people will always talk about.”

In the year since she made history as the first woman of color to win an Emmy for writing for a comedy series for “Master of None,” she’s put that plan into action on multiple fronts. She inked a first-look deal with Showtime and lined up a jam-packed slate of projects across TV, film and digital. Which means she’s now writing “Boomerang” for BET, casting “Queen and Slim” with director Melina Matsoukas, developing “Them” for Amazon, shooting the pilot for TBS’ “Twenties” and overseeing the second season of “The Chi” for Showtime. And then there are a few acting gigs, just for kicks.

“I started to get a lot of freedom post-Emmy, and it’s something I don’t take for granted,” Waithe says. “I’ve been very mindful of that privilege, and making sure that I’m doing the best writing I can be doing so that privilege isn’t taken away. I think once next year comes, people will get a better sense of who I am, not just as an artist, as a writer, but who I am as a human, and the kind of work I’m going to put out into the world.”

That work includes shining a spotlight on The Trevor Project, the nonprofit focused on suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth.

“They’re doing God’s work,” she says plainly of the charity that honored her at its gala in June. “They’re literally saving lives. How many people can you say go to work and it’s their job to tell someone, ‘You’re beautiful, you’re amazing, the world needs you, don’t take yourself away from the world’?”

Raising funds to help pay for the counselors has become a passion project. “We still are looked down upon because of how we are born,” she says. “And I don’t ever want anyone to ever feel like their lives aren’t as valued as anyone else’s.”

So for Waithe, being phenomenal also means using her newfound visibility to redefine power in Hollywood amid the sea change that’s roiled the industry: “The powerful are not just white straight men anymore,” she says. “They are a black tattooed gay girl from South Chicago.”

For a full Q&A with Lena Waithe, click here. 

More TV

  • Stephen Colbert

    Stephen Colbert Mocks Former CBS Chief Leslie Moonves on 'Late Show'

    Leslie Moonves was known to take an active dislike of David Letterman making fun of him during that host’s tenure on CBS’ “The Late Show.” He probably isn’t enjoying being mentioned by Stephen Colbert either. Colbert used his monologue on Tuesday’s broadcast to poke fun at the former CBS Corp. CEO, who yesterday learned that [...]

  • Ruth Wilson and Idris Elba'Luther Series

    'Luther' Creator Neil Cross Working on Show's Movie Version, Idris Elba Says

    A movie version of crime series “Luther” is moving forward, with writer-creator Neil Cross working on the script, the show’s star Idris Elba confirmed at the launch of Season 5 in London. “We are really advancing on getting a movie version [of the show] up on the screen,” Elba said. “Neil is beavering away on [...]

  • THE VOICE -- "Blind Auditions" --

    TV News Roundup: NBC Announces Midseason Premiere Dates

    In today’s roundup, NBC reveals midseason premiere dates for six shows, including “The Voice.” DATES  NBC has announced midseason premiere dates for four returning and two new series. “The Voice” will air Feb. 25 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, Feb. 26 at 8 p.m., and March 5 at 8 p.m. It will return April 23 at 8 [...]

  • David Rhodes CBS News

    CBS News Faces New Challenges in Weeks Ahead

    At CBS News, President David Rhodes has a series of important decisions to make that could affect the trajectories of some of TV’s best-known news programs. As its parent company seeks to move forward from recent seismic events – the ouster of its former CEO, Leslie Moonves; a corporate probe into its workplace culture; and [...]

  • European Union Placeholder

    Europe, Hollywood Hail Landmark E.U. Territorial Licensing Agreement

    Industry organizations and major companies in Europe and Hollywood welcomed Tuesday a high-level European Union agreement that in large part preserves producers’ ability to sell movies and TV shows on an exclusive territory-by-territory basis. Territorial licensing is a financial backbone of the film and TV business in Europe. Recognition of such licensing came last Thursday in [...]

  • Queer as Folk UK Version

    'Queer as Folk' Reboot in Development at Bravo (EXCLUSIVE)

    In a competitive situation, Bravo is developing a new version of “Queer as Folk,” Variety has learned exclusively. Russell T. Davies, the creator of the original UK series, is onboard the new project as an executive producer. Stephen Dunn is attached to write, direct, and executive produce. Nicola Shindler of Red Productions, who executive produced the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content