If you’re a fan of Master of None, Aziz Ansari’s pretty-much-perfect Netflix sitcom about a thirty-something Indian-American actor living in New York City, you’ll be familiar with Lena Waithe. The actress, producer and screenwriter plays Denise, the best female friend of Dev (Ansari). She’s unutterably brilliant in the role: cool, loyal, and delightfully deadpan when it comes to dishing out advice to her hapless male buddies.
Waithe co-wrote an episode in season two of Master of None that focuses on Denise coming out to her family. On Sunday night, that episode earned her an Emmy for comedy writing – making her the first black woman ever to win the award. And as you might expect from an acclaimed writer, her acceptance speech was seriously powerful.
After thanking her girlfriend and her Master of None colleagues, Waithe addressed her “LGBTQIA family” directly. “I see each and every one of you,” she said. “The things that make us different – those are our superpowers."
“Every day when you walk out the door, put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world,” she continued. “Because the world would not be as beautiful as it is without us in it.”
Referring to herself and Ansari, with whom she shared the award, Waithe added: “Thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little queer black girl from the Southside of Chicago.”
Waithe was not just the first black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing; she was also the first black woman to even be nominated. (The only other woman of colour to be nominated for the award is Mindy Kaling, who was given a nod in 2010 for her work on The Office.)
Speaking to reporters backstage at the Emmys, Waithe said that she hoped her success will inspire other women of colour to pursue careers in the entertainment industry.
“It says that it is possible,” she told Variety. “There’s so many other funny women of colour. I hope they will now have an opportunity because this door has been opened.”
The episode for which Waithe and Ansari won the Emmy, Thanksgiving, was in part based on Waithe’s own experiences of coming out to her family.
“It’s very black. It’s very female. It’s really gay,” she said in August. “[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.
“That, to me is progress,” Waithe continued. “When a straight, white guy is, like, Thanksgiving was my favourite episode,’ that’s when art is doing its job, when he can look at my character and go, ‘I can see myself in her.’”
Images: Rex Features / Netflix