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Lena Waithe: “Activism Is Me Paying for a Writer to Go to a Television-Writing Class”

Lena Waithe Vanity Fair Profile

For her first issue at the helm of the post-Graydon Carter era Vanity Fair, editor-in-chief Radhika Jones chose actress and Emmy-Winning writer, and Time’s Up activist Lena Waithe for the cover. The way Jones tells it, putting Waithe on the cover was a no-brainer.

“The truth is, Lena made my choice easy,” Jones wrote in the editor letter of her inaugural issue. While listing Waithe’s myriad show business accomplishments, including Showtime renewing her show The Chi and her role in the Stephen Spielberg film Ready Player One, Jones touched on the causes to which the actress is dedicated. From Vanity Fair:

She joined Time’s Up, working on behalf of women and the L.G.B.T. community in the quest for more equitable representation and compensation in Hollywood. The pilot of her show Twenties has been picked up by TBS, and she’s turning her unofficial mentoring program into a pipeline for writers of color looking to break into Hollywood. This is Lena Waithe’s year, and we’re delighted to mark it.

Waithe is definitely having a hell of a year and recently made history as the first black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing for the “Thanksgiving” episode from the second season of Master of None. In her interview for Vanity Fair, which was conducted by National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson, Waithe says that she wants to use her success to help more people of color and queer artists launch projects in the entertainment industry.

“How has the Emmy changed me? It got me all these meetings that I go in and say I’m too busy to work with you—you should have hollered at me,” Waithe said. “You can take my call when I call you about this black queer writer over here who’s got a dope pilot, or this person over here who’s got really cool ideas, or this actress who’s really amazing but nobody’s seen her.”

In addition to recommending artists to Hollywood gatekeepers, Waithe said that she is investing her time and money into developing underrepresented talent. From Vanity Fair:

“I have a ton of mentees,” she tells me over the phone. “They’re all people of color. Some of them are poor. And I’m just trying to help them learn how to be great writers; and for those that have become really good writers, I help them get representation; and those that have representation, I want to help get them jobs. That to me is a form of activism. I was doing this before Time’s Up was created. I am doing it now. Activism is me paying for a writer to go to a television-writing class.”

Additionally, Dear White People creator Justin Simien praised Waithe’s desire to mentor a new crop of creators that might otherwise get overlooked without her support. The way Simien put it, Waithe “created systems, and now she’s got almost 100 mentees going to writing classes, and evaluating each other’s work.”

Earlier this month, Waithe announced that her production company team will read the script of anyone who scores an 8 or above after uploading their script to The Black List , a resource that provides industry evaluation of scripts and lets producers, script buyers, and agents link up with screenwriters who aren’t connected within Hollywood. The network is probably most well known for its annual list of the best unproduced scripts.