“For me, I really want to make sure that we are doing something fresh,” says Lena Waithe of Boomerang, the upcoming BET series she is calling a recharge of the 1992 movie that is having its world preview at the Sundance Film Festival on Saturday. “I want people who watch the show to want to go back and revisit the mood of the movie or watch the movie and pick up on things in the show,” the Emmy winner adds of the Eddie Murphy-Halle Berry pic. The new Boomerang picks up with the children of the characters from the original story.
An alum of the Robert Redford-founded fest, The Chi creator was also set to appear on a panel today in Park City with The Black List’s Franklin Leonard, USC’s Stacy Smith, Crazy Rich Asians EP Nina Jacobson and Sundance Institute’s Karim Ahmad to discuss diversity and representation.
Having just arrived at SFF, the Emmy winner chatted with me about bringing Boomerang to Sundance, the challenge her co-executive producer Halle Berry set her, and why the new project is a product of the current time. Never one to duck a hot topic, Waithe also spoke about what she thinks is the true state of inclusion and change in Hollywood and what real change will be.
DEADLINE: So, with the Boomerang recharge not airing on BET until mid-February, why did you want to preview it at Sundance this weekend?
WAITHE: We wanted to show it at Sundance because we wanted to say that this was the caliber of material that we’re making. You know, people come to Sundance to see what’s next and what the future is and who they should be looking at.
I think that our show is so different. I think they should be looking at this because this is the future of the industry, really, wrapped up in one show in a way. Also because it’s done in a very nuanced, artful way. So, to me, it’s like where else would we premiere it other than Sundance? You know, it’s a very sophisticated show, but it’s also entertaining. It really is a breath of fresh air. I think that’s the kind of stuff that people expect to see when they come to Sundance.
DEADLINE: In that, what were some of the challenges in creating this Boomerang as distinctive from the 1990s movie starring Eddie Murphy, Halle Berry and Robin Givens?
WAITHE: Here’s the truth. Halle said to me on the phone before it became official, she’s said you can’t re-create the movie. You can’t do that. I agreed with that, and I said, I have no intention of trying to do that. She said, what you can do is make a new miracle — and that’s a tall order.
I accepted that challenge and I think that we made something new for a new generation, for a new age. Something that feels fresh, because anybody that’s expecting Eddie Murphy, and Robin Givens, and Halle Berry, and Grace Jones to show up and a hologram of Eartha Kitt, they’re going to be looking at the wrong show. What we’re trying to do is a continuation of a story, because, at the end of the day, the story didn’t stop.
The characters kept going. They got married. They got a kid. They started their own agency. Robin’s Jacqueline went off and did her thing and had a son, and he wanted to get the family business.
For me, I really want to make sure that we are doing something fresh. I want people who watch the show to want to go back and revisit the mood of the movie or watch the movie and pick up on things in the show. I don’t want it to be a re-creation. I think anybody that wants that can go watch the movie. You know what I’m saying?
DEADLINE: I think I do, but I also see this show literally and figuratively being about legacy for the original movie, for modern Black Hollywood, for you as a creator…
WAITHE: Yeah, for black people, you know, we have a big legacy. We all have a shadow to step out of because our ancestors did things that we could never imagine, and we’re doing things that they could’ve never imagined.
So, in that sense, we have to make sure we’re always running and we always feel the need to be excellent and amazing because we’re still trying to earn the space in which we take up in this country in a way, and I think that’s also a burden in itself. That’s what these characters in our Boomerang, I’m not interested in these characters at a coffee shop clinking glasses. I want to show characters that are dealing with a trauma, a trauma of their ancestors, but also the trauma of being raised by parents that were more interested in themselves than they were the children that they gave birth to.
DEADLINE: How do you mean?
WAITHE: When you’re 26, like, you’re shunning your parents. You don’t want to be a reflection of them, you want to be a reflection of yourself, and that’s what’s happening in our show.
DEADLINE: With all that you are packing into Boomerang, are you worried that they’ll be a strong audience for it?
WAITHE: No, not really.
WAITHE: Because in terms of black content, for a long time, I think we got a lot of extreme content. Either it’s really simple or it’s really heavy, and I think that, you know, we can live in the middle with something like Boomerang.
I also think we could be sophisticated and I hope that comes through in the show. Because the show that we made, I haven’t seen it. We’ve seen black people living and all that kind of stuff, but we haven’t seen this, and I think we’ll be more excited to show it to an audience this weekend and see their reaction. I’m really looking forward to people seeing it and checking it out.
DEADLINE: From Boomerang, the TV movie Twenties, more of The Chi, your sneaker series, the Amazon series Them and more, it seems like it’s all no sleep ‘til Brooklyn for you right now. At this point in your career, with an Emmy, working with some of the people you grew up respecting, making some of the shows that are based on things that influence you and wanting to push the influence forward, how would you gauge where you’re at by your own standard?
WAITHE: (laughs) It’s only the beginning still, and mind you, and I say that respectfully. The things that I’ve been able to accomplish now … this is only the beginning, because people may think they have an idea of what I want to do or who I am, but they don’t yet. The truth is, I think “prove myself” is the wrong way to put it. It’s more I want to continue to put out work so people can get a better sense of who I am as an artist.
But I also want to continue to put out work that forces the work around to shift and change and be better.
DEADLINE: Better how?
WAITHE: For me, it’s like I’m in a neighborhood that’s sort of rundown. I want to build a sturdy, energy-sustaining, really shiny, cool house to where the people around will go. Something that’s sustainable versus something that’s really easy to put together but that that will blow down with one breeze. I want to be better, because that’s what Donald Glover does for me. That’s what people who inspire me do.
There’s so much to come. There are people who haven’t even seen Boomerang or Twenties yet, which they will soon. They haven’t even seen this other thing I did that people will hear about soon. They have no idea what I have up my sleeve. But I hope they’re excited, and I hope that people are willing to rock with me and stay tuned.
DEADLINE: There is so much talk about diversity now, thankfully, talk about inclusion, people use the term representation. But I want to know, where do you think things are really at?
WAITHE: I think things are in a decent place.
They’re not in a great place, and I’ll say why.
Yes, you’re seeing more black stories. You’re seeing more black people. You’re seeing a lot of black faces, but the truth is we still aren’t in charge. We are not in charge. There’s still not a black person running these studios. There’s still not a major network that’s run by a black person. We’re still owned by corporations where white men sit on the board. So we’re still asking for permission. So until we stop asking for permission, we have not overcome. Now, mind you, we’re frolicking. We’re enjoying this time because people realize, oh, there’s money to be made off of black bodies, which has always been the truth in this country.
The truth is, is Black Panther a great movie? Absolutely, but what that sends a signal to Hollywood is, oh, well, we got to mimic that. Or even This Is Us, like one of the people playing the characters being the black family or Atlanta doing so well. People are like, black folks are in vogue. It’s not a fad anymore. This isn’t the days of Empire.
DEADLINE: What is it then?
WAITHE: These are the days now of Dear White People, Atlanta and Boomerang. Now you have to be nuanced. Now you have to be specific. Now you’re not going to look to duplicate some show about black people. Now you got to go to the source. Now myself, Donald Glover, Ryan Coogler, we’re in positions of power now because these studios, these networks, they want us. They’re coming at us to make overall deals. Let’s do this so we’ll be in business, because they want what’s in our heads.
DEADLINE: Spike Lee has long spoken about the real change will come when people of color are in the boardroom and the corner office…
WAITHE: Yes, it’s a very exciting time in Hollywood, but we got to really use this time and use our power to make sure that the execs look like us and the heads of studios look like us, as well. But I also want to say just having black people in positions of power doesn’t always fix the problem because kinfolk aren’t always kinfolk. It’s about having people who have great taste and people who are willing to take risks.