In an interview discussing how her own coming out story became fodder for the Emmy Award-winning episode of Netflix’s Master of None, Lena Waithe talked about proudly entering into a room knowing she would make people uncomfortable.
Waithe was asked to expand on this idea of embracing disruption today at the Produced By Conference. She said she’s conscious of attracting stares when she enters a room — and that’s a good thing.
“The things that make me different are also a commodity,” Waithe said. “Being brown. Being female. Having a different point of view. That’s something the industry can make money off of. I don’t write the Thanksgiving episode if I’m not gay, black and female.”
Waithe said studios are eager to buy what she has to sell, because she’s making art from her personal experience.
“What I have to sell is my vulnerability, my truth, my brokenness,” Waithe said. “And I’m using that to entertain the world.”
She was joined in the discussion by her friend, Justin Simien, creator of Dear White People, former NFL Player turned producer Nnamdi Asomugha of Iam21 Entertainment (Crown Heights, Beasts of No Nation), Dan Bucatinsky, Partner, Is Or Isn’t Entertainment (The Comeback) and Mel Eslyn, president of Duplass Brothers Productions (Outside In).
Simien talked about meeting Waithe in a television writer’s group and his decade-plus long struggle to get Dear White People made.
“Black film at the time was Tyler Perry,” Simien said. “I’m looking at this rumination on the black experience. Nobody was checking for that.”
Simien was so committed to his vision for comedy drawn from the contemporary black experience that he took his $2,000 tax refund, stealthily filming on the UCLA campus, to produce a concept trailer for an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign. He raised $25,000 from the appeal, landed a CNN interview and quit his PR job to pursue his dream. A year and a half after “stepping out on faith,” Code Red backed the project — in part, because Simien had amassed a sizable social media following around his original vision.
All the panelists offered various insights of telling authentic stories, especially the ones that come from the most private places. Waithe reflected on the symbolism of the Academy Awards ceremony, where Moonlight literally took the best picture Oscar out of the hands of La La Land.
“They tell us Hollywood is supposed to look like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone,” Waithe said. “At the end of the day, we deserve to be there. We deserve a seat at that table.”