Lena Waithe was born on May 17, 1984. She is an actress, producer, and screenwriter who made history in 2017 by becoming the first Black woman to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.
Lena Waithe was born in Chicago, Illinois, and raised on the city’s South Side. Her parents divorced when she was only three. From an early age, Waithe knew she wanted to write for television, a dream supported by her single mother and grandmother. Waithe attended Turner-Drew, a predominately Black elementary magnet school, graduated from Evanston Township High School, and earned a degree in cinema and television arts from Columbia College Chicago.
Named by “Variety” as one of its “10 Comedians to Watch” in 2014, Waithe had already begun to build her credentials as a writer on the Nickelodeon show, “How to Rock,” and as a producer of the film, “Dear White People.” She also wrote and appeared in the YouTube series “Twenties,” wrote and directed the short film “Save Me,” and wrote the “Hello Cupid” web series and the viral video, “Shit Black Girls Say.”
Waithe’s big break came after she was cast in the Netflix series “Master of None,” which premiered in 2015. Her role of Denise was originally written as a straight, white woman, but the show’s creators changed the character to be more like Waithe. “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,” Waithe said.
In 2017, Waithe and Aziz Ansari won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for the episode “Thanksgiving,” making Waithe the first Black woman to capture the award. The episode for which she won was partly based on her experiences coming out to her mother. During her acceptance speech, she thanked voters for “embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina [Ansari] and a little queer Black girl from the South Side of Chicago.”
That same year, “Out” magazine named Waithe the Out100: Artist of the Year, and “The Advocate” selected her as a finalist for its Person of the Year. Capping off her incredible year, Waithe became engaged to her girlfriend, Alana Mayo.
On January 7, 2018, Waithe’s drama series, “The Chi,” premiered on Showtime. The series is based on Waithe’s experiences growing up on the South Side of Chicago.
We thank Lena Waithe for her trailblazing contributions to television and film, and for her support of our community.