Lena Waithe, Aziz Ansari’s Master of None co-star and Emmy-winning co-writer, suggested in a radio interview yesterday that Ansari shouldn’t be lumped into the same category as Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey.
“Here’s the truth,” Waithe said in an interview with The Frame, a program on Southern California’s KPCC radio station, “in every situation, it’s not always black-and-white. And I know that’s simple for people, and it’s easy for people to [ask], ‘Whose side are you on?’ There are no sides, really, in some of these scenarios.
“I’m not on Harvey Weinstein’s side, I’m not on Kevin Spacey’s side. But I think you have take each situation [individually]. You can’t just say, ‘Well, I’m on this person’s team’ or ‘I’m on that person’s team.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
If Waithe’s answer was neither the outright defense nor the condemnation that either side of the Ansari debate might want, the actress-writer did seem to suggest that the controversial allegations against her co-star raised issues of consent.
“I think a big thing is, we have to have a dialogue,” Waithe said. “And I think if we’re unwilling to have a dialogue we’re gonna continue to keep hitting our heads against the wall. We have to start reeducating ourselves about what consent is, what’s appropriate behavior at the workplace. We have to create codes of conduct. Those are things that we need. ‘Cause also I think there’s an element of — how do you know if you’re breaking a rule if you aren’t aware of the rules? Or how do you know what appropriate behavior is if no one’s ever communicated to you what appropriate behavior is? Even though some people may assume, Well, of course we all know what appropriate behavior is, but some people may not know.
“It’s about really educating ourselves and not stepping in it and just [saying], Oh, I’m sorry. My bad — and sort of keep going. But it’s about really sitting with yourself and educating yourself in terms of what consent is, what it looks like, what it feels like, what it sounds like. And all of us starting to really act accordingly based on this new information that I think we have now. We all gotta start talking to each other, start educating each other.”
Last month, an article posted on the website Babe quoted a pseudonymous 23-year-old woman who said she had been coerced by Ansari into having sex following a dinner date. The article drew a huge and varying response, with some, like HLN Ashleigh Banfield, describing the encounter as a mere “bad date” where others saw sexual misconduct. Said Samantha Bee, “If you say you’re a feminist, then f*ck like a feminist. And if you don’t want to do that, then take off your f*cking pin because we are not your accessories.”
(Ansari himself responded that he was “surprised and concerned” by the woman’s allegations. “I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said,” he wrote. “I continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture. It is necessary and long overdue.”)
Waithe, creator of Showtime’s The Chi, plays Denise on Master of None, and she and Ansari shared an Emmy this year for writing the show’s “Thanksgiving” episode in which her character came out to her family as gay. A supporter of the Time’s Up movement, Waithe spoke at the Sundance Film Festival’s Respect Rally last month.
“I feel like a voice like mine should be a part of those gatherings,” Waithe, who is gay, told The Frame. “I think the voices that are at things like that should feel like society. Because sometimes those voices are voices of caucasian people, pretty people, important people. But the truth is [that] those that are marginalized … often need to pipe up because we have a different perspective. And I still find it quite sad that there are so few of us that are out, cause the numbers just don’t add up. If you look at all of black Hollywood and say Oh, just Lena, Wanda Sykes, Samira Wiley and RuPaul are the gay ones. It’s like, that doesn’t make sense. Look, I respect everybody and they can live their lives the way they live their lives, but I think it’s really important for us to show ourselves.”