Lena Waithe of ‘Master of None’ discusses Emmy nomination and LGBT representation during GLAAD panel at TCA press tour
The “Master of None” episode Lena Waithe had been reluctant to explore — about her character Denise’s coming out experience — not only earned her an Emmy nomination but also the distinction of being the first black woman nominated for comedy writing. And while she’s reveling in the moment, Waithe is quick to note that progress needs to be made.
“I didn’t know I was the first black woman,” Waithe, who co-wrote the Thanksgiving episode with star and co-creator Aziz Ansari, said during a panel presented Friday at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour in Beverly Hills by GLAAD, the LGBTQ advocacy group.
It wasn’t until her publicist confirmed the detail with the Television Academy that it sunk in. Mindy Kaling, Waithe pointed out, was the first woman of color to be nominated in the category in 2010 for an episode of “The Office.”
“I’m the first black woman to be nominated,” Waithe said. “Hopefully, not the last. We’ve got to work on that.”
Waithe gave credit to Ansari and fellow “Master of None” co-creator Alan Yang for urging her to tell her story.
“I’m really grateful,” Waithe said of the recognition for the episode. “It’s very black. It’s very female. It’s really gay. [And] the cool thing about that is so many people loved it ... particularly white people like it; straight, white people have come up to me and say how much they like it. And that, to me, is progress. When a straight, white guy is, like, ‘ “Thanksgiving” was my favorite episode,’ that’s when art is doing its job, when he can look at my character and go, ‘I can see myself in her.’ ”
Waithe talked about the breakthrough during GLAAD’s panel — “Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Trends on TV Today.” Other panelists included “How to Get Away With Murder” creator Pete Nowalk, “My So-Called Life” and “13 Reasons Why” star Wilson Cruz, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s” Stephanie Beatriz and “Wynonna Earp” showrunner Emily Andras.
The panelists spoke largely of the importance of seeing more dimensional gay characters on television and greater diversity. Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s director of entertainment research, noted that gay characters on television are overwhelmingly male and white.
Cruz, a former GLAAD board of directors member, said there is value in visibility.
“25 years ago when I came out ... I was adamant about being out,” said Cruz, who next will be seen as part of the first gay couple on “Star Trek” when CBS’ All Access premieres “Star Trek: Discovery” next month.
“There wasn’t anybody out on TV at the time playing a series regular character,” he added. “I wanted to send a message directly to young people that they could be themselves, have a wonderful life and love someone of the same sex.”
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