There are places in time and space through which our very existence seems to be quantified. As the stars, planets, and hemispheres align in just the right way they bring sites into view, illuminating what was once obscure. While these nexus points appear to be random yet serendipitous, our very placement at these intersections of what is and is not possible is what makes them special. A day late, disappointment. A day early, ignorance. But, with just the right amount of hard work, timing and likeminded, creative kinfolk, we can be fully aware of our dreams as they come to life.
For Lena Waithe, recognition has been a long time in coming but you’ll inevitably hear some say she’s an overnight success. You may recall her from the hit Netflix series Master of None as a writer and a supporting actor, the lions share of her most recent accolades are from the stellar writing of her Showtime series The Chi. The Shadow League was in attendance at a viewing and panel discussion featuring Waithe, executive producer Common, and actors Jason Mitchell and Jacob Lattimore where she discussed her hit series, which concluded season last month.
Moderator: How did this project come about?
Lena Waithe: Living in LA at the time trying to be a TV writer at the time, I was watching a lot of Chicago news stories. I was reading a lot of Baldwin, a lot of Langston Hughes, and I was really blown away about how they told our stories, how they always continued to see the God in us. I really wanted to do something similar because I really know the people of Chicago. I see them being reported on, but I see them being reported on by foreigners and people that arent from Chicago. They dont know the city. They dont know what its like to live and work and play and fall in love there.
I was trying to figure out these characters, she continued. We did a first draft which we thought was okay but could have been stronger. Showtime stayed with me and we got Rick Famuyiwa to come in, and we have them amazing cast. Then, they gave us another strike at it, which very rare in television. But we just hit it out of the park and Im really grateful for the people that kept rocking with us and watching the show.
It is very unique. Its a unique way to look at black people, it is a unique way to see us because were really just being. Were not tap dancing, were not trying to get out of the hood, were not rapping
A fateful event sends shockwaves through a community on the South Side of Chicago and connects the lives of Brandon, Ronnie, Emmett and Kevin in wholly unexpected ways. The ensemble cast includes Jason Mitchell, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Jacob Latimore, Alex Hibbert, Yolonda Ross, Tiffany Boone and Armando Riesco.
Common on why this role made him reconsider playing dudes from Chicago.
I didnt want to play a dude from Chicago, but most of that happened because it was people writing didnt know what a dude from Chicago would be like, or just a black person thats a doctor, the rapper told audience members. They just wouldnt write him as a full human being in that way. I think were blessed to have these incredible actors but I also thing that its just a testament to how great Lena has created these characters because, yeah, you want to play a character like that. I wanted to be a part of the show because the writing is so great and the characters to have dimension to them.
Vanity Fair magazine celebrates the impact that “The Chi” creator Lena Waithe is making on the entertainment industry by featuring her on its latest cover. With a breakout TV series, a historic Emmy, and a propulsive role in Steven Spielberg’s #ReadyPlayerOne, screenwriter-producer-actress-and V.F.
We came on as producers, my company Freedom Road, Derrick and the rest of our team, because we saw that this was coming from a visionary who wanted to tell stories about black life that people had never seen. I feel like those stories are some of the most important stories we can tell in American today because those are the things that break racial barriers, they bring you into our living rooms or into our churches our into our block club parties, and its like Damn, were people just like yall. Other nationalities get to see black people in a new way and thats I why I wanted to be a part of this.
I always thought that when you work for a talented visionary, thats when you can get across real thoughts. Thats why we all love Stephen Spielberg and we all love Martin Scorsese. Lena is a visionary. She knew what the vision was, she comes from that, she creates it.
Ready Player One star and The Chi creator Lena Waithe is one of the most influential people of 2018. Senator Kamala Harris writes about the first black woman to win a comedy writing Emmy for Master of None.
Indeed, Lena Waithe is not only a visionary with a flair for comic acting and dramatic writing, her placement in the universe relative to our own means we get to see her star grow exponentially brighter. Waithe starred in the new Steven Spielberg film Ready Player One, which got rave reviews and a buzz loud enough to drown out a million bees. From a photo shoot in Vanity Fair to inclusion in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People issue, Waithe is about to go supernova.
Final Trailer for Ready Player One
She was also on hand at SXSW as part of the contingent harkening the arrival of Steven Spielbergs most recent could-be blockbuster, “Ready Player One.” Lena plays a pivotal role of Aech in this virtual reality world.
I truly am! And the thing is, this is the first film that Ive ever been in, Lena reportedly told Black Girl Nerds. Look, its a wild ride, but its also a departure. From Master of None, where were always trying to be as grounded as possible, wanting it to feel so naturalistic, we want people to feel like theyre just hanging out with their friends. But in this space, its like, how big can you be? If youre going to jump, do it with all your energy. If youre going to shout, do it with all your energy. And I think thats whats so cool about this film, that I got to do something really different. Also, its motion capture, so we had to use our bodies, and really use our facial expressions.
“Ready Player One” debuted nationwide March 29, 2018, and The Chi has been approved for a second season from HBO. Stay tuned for more coverage of these particular creative works, and an up and coming star in Lena Waithe.