Emmy Award winning writer, creator and actor Lena Waithe has proven herself a talent to be reckoned with, who only continues to grow her body of work with diversity and charisma. As a triple threat, Waithe expertly taps into emerging cultural sensibilities with a sharp wit, speaking to myriad experiences from her unique perspective and challenging audiences to think outside of conventional norms.
Waithe marks her feature film screenwriting debut with Universal’s “Queen & Slim,” which was released on November 27, 2019. Directed by Melina Matsoukas and starring Academy Award nominee Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner, the film centers on a man and woman who wind up on the run after their first date goes awry. The film opened to incredible box office success and received rave reviews for its “thought-provoking, profound and deeply affecting” storytelling, as mentioned by The Wrap’s Todd Gilchrist.
In 2019, she signed a new overall deal with Amazon Studios and will work to create and produce original series which will premiere exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide. Waithe already had a two-season commitment at Amazon for the horror anthology series “Them” which she will executive produce. She had previously been under a first-look deal at Showtime to produce projects through her company Hillman Grad Productions, including the half-hour anthology comedy series “How To Make Love to a Black Woman” which she will executive produce in addition to the “The Chi”. The Showtime drama series is a relevant, timely, and distinctive coming-of-age story that follows six interrelated characters in Chicago’s South Side. The third season and will be released in 2020. The show has received a Peabody Award nomination, and Waithe received two 2019 NAACP Image Award nominations on behalf of “The Chi” for the Pilot and The Whistle” episodes.
Waithe recently produced Radha Blank’s groundbreaking film, “The 40-Year-Old Version,” which blends real life and fiction to follow its protagonist, a down-on-her luck New York playwright, who decides to reinvent herself and salvage her artistic voice by becoming a rapper at age 40. The film will premiere at the Sundance 2020 Film Festival in January.
Currently, she serves as a writer and executive producer of BET’s “Boomerang” revival alongside Halle Berry. Based on the 1992 American romantic comedy film, the revival is a continuation of the original story rather than a traditional reboot and the series follows the lives of Jacqueline Boyer’s son and Marcus and Angela Graham’s daughter as they try to step out of their parents’ shadows and make a legacy of their own. The 10-episode series made its world premiere on February 12 on BET. Since the show’s premiere it has received great reviews from critics and tons of fan support. The second season is set to release in 2020. Additionally, she wrote and executive produced “Twenties,” which follows the adventures of a queer black girl, Hattie, and her two straight best friends, Marie and Nia, who spend most of their days talking shit and chasing their dreams. BET picked up the series, which is loosely based on Waithe’s own life when she first moved to Los Angeles. Production wrapped at the end of this summer and the new series will premiere in 2020.
In addition to her television and film credits, Waithe provides a platform and fellowship for diverse voices on the rise through her Hillman Grad Mentorship program. This initiative paves the way for talent lacking inclusivity and access to make their own ‘protest art’ and create names for themselves within the entertainment industry. The network of mentees and alums is constantly expanding and to date includes roughly 600 actors,120 writers/directors, and 30 producers.
Recently, Waithe announced she is teaming with ATTN: on “Girls Room,” an anthology-style original scripted series as part of Dove’s Self-Esteem Project for young women. “Girls Room” is currently in production and is set to premiere in early 2020. She is also developing a half-hour comedy series for HBO with Kid Fury that follows a 20-something sarcastic gay black man navigating adulthood in New York while struggling to deal with his undiagnosed clinical depression. As a producer, Waithe’s credits include “Step Sisters,” a comedic dance film and the Sundance darling “Dear White People.”
On the acting front, she has been cast in the upcoming third season of “Westworld,” set for release in 2020 on HBO. For film, she will next be seen in Justin Simien’s horror satire BAD HAIR which will also have its world premiere in the Midnight category at the Sundance 2020 Film Festival.
Waithe first made headlines in front of the camera as Denise, friend to Dev (Aziz Ansari) in the critically acclaimed Netflix series “Master of None.” In a role that was originally intended for a straight, Caucasian female, Waithe has made Denise’s experience as a queer black woman uniquely her own. In the second season, Waithe co-wrote the “Thanksgiving” episode, for which she received an Emmy award in the category of “Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series” and a NAACP Image Award nomination. The episode chronicles Denise’s coming out to herself and her family, through the lens of the Thanksgiving holiday over 3 decades. Directed by Melina Matsoukas, the episode is largely based on Waithe’s personal experience.
In 2018, Waithe joined forces with Macro and The Blacklist to launch a TV script development contest for writers of color. The contest offers the opportunity to develop and produce an original digital or television pilot script, and winners will receive help and mentorship to develop a pilot presentation or sizzle. In addition to her partnership with Macro and The Blacklist, Waithe also recently entered into a partnership with Sight Unseen Pictures to find and develop projects that identify and champion emerging underserved voices. Waithe and Sight Unseen Pictures recently acquired the film and television rights to Such a Fun Age, the debut novel by Kiley Reid. The deal marks the first collaboration under the partnership.
In 2018, she starred in Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One.” The film, which is based on Ernest Cline’s 2011 science fiction and dystopian novel, follows the players of virtual reality simulator OASIS, who are pitted against each other in the search of fame and fortune that will save them from their declining world. Waithe stars alongside Ty Sheridan and Olivia Cooke. “Ready Player One” dominated the box office internationally bringing in $181 million in 3 days. Waithe’s additional acting credits include: NBC’s “This Is Us”, Amazon’s “Transparent”, and HBO’s “The Comeback”.
One of VARIETY’s “Top 10 Comics to Watch” in 2014, Waithe was born and raised in Chicago and currently resides in Los Angeles.