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‘Master of None’: Lena Waithe on How Her Revolutionary Episode Represents Lesbians on TV

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Lena Waithe wrote her Emmy-nominated episode of “Master of None” while shooting Steven Spielberg’s upcoming film “Ready Player One.”

Maybe.

“I wrote it in London,” Waithe said in an interview with IndieWire. “My schedule was a little tight in Season 2. I was filming a movie in London.”

“Was that movie ‘Ready Player One’?” IndieWire said.

“Possibly, yes,” Waithe said, laughing. “You possibly could [say that].”

“Thanksgiving,” the time-jumping eighth episode of “Master of None” Season 2, tracks Denise’s (Waithe) relationship with her mother over multiple years. Each part takes place during a different Thanksgiving, as Denise discovers her sexuality and slowly reveals it to her mom (Angela Basset), aunt, and grandmother.

Waithe said the story was “very personal” to her — “it’s obviously a very real version of my own coming out experience” — but writing it wasn’t Waithe’s idea.

“I didn’t have this big idea, like, ‘Hey guys, I want to tell my coming out story,” Waithe said. “It was really organic.”

Waithe said the writing staff knew they wanted a Denise-centered episode in Season 2, so she visited with them in New York to talk about ideas.

“Alan [Yang] just happened to ask me how I came out,” she said. “I told the story in a very animated Lena way, and they really took to it.”

Waithe went back to her hotel and got a surprise phone call from the writers.

“They were so excited,” she said. “They were like, ‘We have to tell this story. We have to do this. We need you to help write it.’ I was just like, ‘Oh, snap.’”

Master of None Season 2 Episode 8 Angela Bassett Lena Waithe

Aniz Ansari, Aziz’s younger brother, came  up with the idea to frame her story over multiple Thanksgivings, and Waithe focused on exactly what story she wanted to tell.

“I never felt the need to tell my coming out story,” Waithe said. “Not because I am ashamed of it or because I don’t think it’s important; I just kind of felt as a queer person of color, often when it comes to our story, they always start there. That’s such a part of our story in the entertainment industry. I just kind of feel like, ‘What about post-coming out? What about once you’re comfortable in your own skin?’”

Thus, Waithe focused on more than just the moment Denise told her mother what happened. She wanted to illustrate how Denise developed into the person she is today.

“It tells you how she really came to be,” Waithe said. “This confident, queer, black woman, but it also gives Dev and Denise a really cute origin story, which I really love.”

She also realized something that stuck with her once the episode was released.

“I have never seen a black female character come out on television,” Waithe said. “I haven’t. If somebody else has, please call me. Tell me where I can go find it. I didn’t realize how revolutionary it was. I really didn’t.”

The revolution translated to real life. Not only did Waithe get a ton of positive feedback on Twitter — “particularly a lot of gay people, people of color, and the queer community really responded to it,” Waithe said — but she became the first black woman to be nominated for an Emmy in the comedy writing category.

Master of None Season 2 Episode 8 Angela Bassett

“My publicists did their research when I was nominated, and they reached out to the academy and found out,” Waithe said. “There are times you’re going about your business of being an artist, and you don’t realize that what you’re doing hasn’t been done before. So I cannot be prouder of the fact that we did do it. We just wanted to tell this unique, cool story that we hadn’t seen before, and in doing that it liberated a lot of people, as certain people saw themselves [in it].”

Citing the #FirstTimeISawMe Twitter campaign, Waithe said “it touches my heart” that people are seeing themselves in Denise.

“The first time I saw me, I saw this girl Tasha on ‘The L Word,’” Waithe said. “It was the first black female character on that show. That was a big deal for me because I was like a budding lesbian living in Chicago, not seeing myself at all on television.”

“Also, I know I am a very unique sort of lesbian,” she said. “I am sort of in the middle. I am not all feminine. I’m not all masculine. I am somewhere in the middle, and I think there is a large community of women like that. It’s part of our community that people don’t really understand and don’t really see.”

To be a part of expanding that understanding through television means a lot to Waithe.

“I could not be prouder, and I don’t carry that chore lightly,” she said. “I don’t want to be the last person to carry it. I hope to pass it on to many, many other women to be an example for women like myself.”

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