During the TCA session for BET’s forthcoming Twenties show creator and writer was joined by fellow executive producer Susan Fales-Hill as well as actors Jonica T. Gibbs, Christina Elmore and Gabrielle Graham to talk about the half-hour comedy that follows a queer black girl Hattie (Gibbs) who is navigating her 20s with her two straight best friends. The series marks one of the first times we have seen a queer woman of color lead a BET series — a series that echos Waithe’s own journey.
Being queer and a person of color — specifically black — brings a lot of questions about acceptance from your own community. For Waithe, she said that she didn’t necessarily have that problem. “Black people love me,” she smiles. “There are some that are still mad at me about Queen & Slim though.”
With Twenties, Waithe said that she wanted to redefine the narrative of acceptance of marginalized communities within their own community. “My character Denise on Master of None helped prepare people for Twenties,” she points out. “I had to be my own revolution and that’s not always easy.”
Waithe talks about how Hattie reflects her own life as a “masculine-presenting stud” that has swagger — something that hasn’t been portrayed on television much. She said that when she watched shows like The L Word, the characters all had lesbian friends, but in her 20s, she didn’t.
“I’m a lesbian surrounded by straight people — that’s my narrative,” she said. “I’m a gay person living in a straight world that’s what I wanted to play with.” She added, “A queer girl doesn’t belong in the back of the bus.”
The journey of Twenties has been quite a journey as it traveled from BET to Hulu and then back to BET. Fales-Hills, who produced the iconic A Different World, jokes that Waithe “dragged her out of the crypt” to produce the series. She points out that when she first started, the talk of diversity and inclusion was not top of mind in Hollywood and that now she is happy to work on a series that embraces queer women and black people.
When asked about how Tyler Perry recently received criticism for saying he is the sole writer on his projects, Waithe said that black Hollywood is an interesting family and they have issues like everyone else. She said that every artist in Hollywood is different and Perry has been supportive of her and other black artists. But with her projects, Waithe said that she can’t do everything herself and that she has worked with so many amazing writers and the show is better because of it.
From The Chi to Queen & Slim to Twenties Waithe is very much puts her advocacy in her art — and she admits that everyone will be happy with it. She said she is not afraid to put her foot in her mouth. “I’m a truth-teller,” she bluntly said. “I’m gonna tell you what I feel whether you like it or not.” She added, “I don’t think white men have had to be polite so why should I?”
Twnties marks Gibbs’ (Good Trouble, The Neighborhood) first lead role. Elmore (The Last Ship, Insecure, Fruitvale Station) and Graham (On The Basis of Sex, 21 Thunder) play her best friends Marie and Nia respectively. The cast also includes Sophina Brown as Ida B, and Big Sean as Tristan. Guest stars include Jenifer Lewis (Black-ish), Rick Fox, Vanessa Williams, Seth Green, Iman Shumpert, Kym Whitley, Chuey Martinez, Marsha Thomason, and Nazanin Mandi.
Waithe executive produces with Fales-Hill who will also serve as co-showrunner, Rishi Rajani and Andrew Coles. Justin Tipping directed the pilot and also executive produces.