Lena Waithe on Black Artists: ‘We’re Leaders of Hollywood Right Now’

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Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Vulture Festival

Chicago natives Lena Waithe and Common came to Vulture Festival L.A. to preview their new dramatic series, The Chi, which debuts January 7 on Showtime. During the post-screening chat with Vulture staff writer E. Alex Jung, Waithe discussed the elevated profile people of color have in Hollywood after the success of films like Get Out and Oscar winner Moonlight. “It’s up to us to think about ways to do it and empower ourselves,” Waithe said. “We’re leaders of Hollywood right now, so let’s be it.”

Common reinforced her point about the current wave of black excellence that’s finally being showcased and respected in Hollywood, “It’s inspiring to me seeing Lena’s moment. We here now and things are changing. We are the leaders, to lead from wherever we stand. When I saw Lena do [her Emmy acceptance speech], I was like, ‘That’s how you do it.’ You could feel her knowing that she was representing something bigger than her.”

Resolute in her observations about the Hollywood system, Waithe continued, “I think Hollywood is a reflection of society. We have a lot of catching up to do. Birth of a Nation was the start of it. We still have catching up to do. Most showrunners are white males and writers’ rooms aren’t as diverse as they should be. Our room is predominantly African-American. We have to be aware that society is a reflection of leadership.” Waithe also acknowledged progress has been made but the road ahead is long, “We are being progressive but we have to look at ourselves in the mirror. I may have been the first, but it’s my mission to make sure I’m not the last.”

To that end, the duo already has ideas about opening doors for the next generation of storytellers in their beloved hometown. As Common explained, “Lena and I talked about bringing opportunity to the city. [For the show] there were actors, gaffers, location scouts from Chicago. Somewhere down the line, we’d like to give kids opportunities to see what it’s like to be a gaffer or a director of photography or a writer. Those are some goals we got down the line: Give them acting classes, filmmaking, and telling stories. We gotta give our shorties that chance.”

Lena Waithe Calls Black Artists ‘Leaders of Hollywood’