Actress and Emmy-winning writer Lena Waithe stopped at Cannes Lions today to discuss her role as a mentor in AT&T’s Hello Lab program as well as what she sees as “the next frontier” in filmmaking. During a panel titled Diversity in Filmmaking: From Empowerment to Execution, the Master Of None and Ready Player One star said, “It’s important for us as artists” to write “something that feels vulnerable or brutally honest. We have to go beyond ‘I want to see myself.’ It’s more about, ‘I want to see my trauma, my wounds… Certain movies stay with us. I want to see more Get Outs.”
Carrying on from her co-panelist Matt Castellanos who commented, “If we’re in Cannes in 2022 and there’s still the need to talk about diversity in filmmaking, I think we f***ed up,” Waithe also noted, “At some point we have to stop having diversity conversations… It’s not just about visibility, but about accountability.” She pointed to Spike Lee, noting, “Vintage Spike used to really hold us accountable. He really held a mirror up to us.”
Castellanos last year directed award-winning short Yoshua under the AT&T Hello Lab which pairs entertainment industry leaders with aspiring filmmakers from underrepresented groups. The projects are then showcased on DirecTV and DirecTV Now.
Waithe is participating for the first time this year, as are The Chi producer Shelby Stone; filmmaker Cary Fukunaga; Thor: Ragnarok helmer Taika Waititi; actress Tessa Thompson; and cinematographer Rachel Morrison. Common is returning for the second year.
Valerie Vargas, SVP Advertising and Creative Services, AT&T Mobility and Entertainment Group, noted that all writers in the program this year are women. The projects will be produced over the summer and air in the fall.
Waithe’s mentees are director Sean Frank Johnson and writer Casallina Kisakye with Further Away. The story centers on a black woman who is institutionalized in a psych ward and meets God, who herself is also a black woman.
Waithe found director Frank after seeing a clip of his and seeking him out on Instagram to set up a breakfast in New York. This was before the AT&T program came about, but she signed on “because I’m a believer in mentorship and I also really believe in artists that I see have potential. If you direct something that really sticks out or haunts me I’m in… I want to see really great things and see the world through someone else’s eyes. The only way to do that is to seek them out, and see if I can be helpful… it’s almost for selfish reasons, I want to see these people’s stories being told.”
By way of advice, she said, “I think it’s about working to make the work better. Very few people are great right out of the gate — that’s ilke three people in a lifetime. Most of us have to hit our head against a wall three times. It builds character, gives you a real sense.”