Lena Waithe
Waithe at the 2018 WonderCon
Born (1984-05-17) May 17, 1984 (age 39)
EducationColumbia College Chicago (BFA)
  • Actress
  • producer
  • screenwriter
Years active2007–present
(m. 2019; div. 2021)

Lena Waithe (/wθ/;[1] born May 17, 1984)[2][3] is an American actress, producer, and screenwriter. She is the creator of the Showtime drama series The Chi (2018–present) and the BET comedy series Boomerang (2019–20) and Twenties (2020–2021). She also wrote and produced the crime film Queen & Slim (2019) and is the executive producer of the horror anthology series Them (2021–present).

Waithe gained recognition for her role in the Netflix comedy-drama series Master of None (2015–present), and became the first African-American woman to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series in 2017 for writing the show's "Thanksgiving" episode, which was loosely based on her personal experience of coming out to her mother. She has also appeared in Steven Spielberg's 2018 adventure film Ready Player One and the HBO series Westworld. In 2023, she received a nomination for Best Play at the 76th Tony Awards, her production work on the sketch-comedy play Ain't No Mo'.

Waithe was named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2018;[4] and was included on Fast Company's Queer 50 list in 2021 and 2022.[5][6]

Early life and education

Waithe was born in Chicago, Illinois.[7][8] Her father, Lawrence David Waithe, died when she was fifteen.[9] Her paternal great-grandfather, Winston Waithe, emigrated from Barbados to Boston in 1921; his family, descended from sugar plantation slaves, was from Christ Church, Barbados.[9] Though acting was not originally among her ambitions,[10][11] she knew from the age of seven that she wanted to be a television writer and received strong family support for her writing from her single mother and grandmother.[12] Her parents had divorced when she was three.[13] Waithe and her sister grew up on the South Side of Chicago until Waithe was 12; she attended a local, mostly African-American elementary magnet school, Turner-Drew,[14] but moved to Evanston and finished middle school at Chute Middle School.[15] She graduated from Evanston Township High School and earned a degree in cinema and television arts[16] from Columbia College Chicago in 2006,[17][11][18] praising faculty playwright Michael Fry for his teaching and encouragement.[18][19] Seeking more ways to involve herself in the television and film industry, she also worked at a movie theater, at a Best Buy, and at a Blockbuster.[20]


Having arrived in Los Angeles, Waithe secured a job as an assistant to the executive producer of Girlfriends, a long-running sitcom.[20] Soon after, she landed a minor role in Lisa Kudrow's The Comeback.[20] She later became a writer for the Fox television series Bones,[10] a writer for the 2012 Nickelodeon sitcom How to Rock, and a producer on the 2014 satirical comedy film Dear White People.[21] Waithe wrote and appeared in the YouTube series "Twenties", produced by Flavor Unit Entertainment and optioned in 2014 by BET.[22][23] In addition to writing and directing the short film "Save Me", which was shown at several independent film festivals,[24] Waithe wrote the 2013 web series "Hello Cupid" and the 2011 viral video Shit Black Girls Say.[21]

In 2014, Variety named Waithe one of its "10 Comedians to Watch".[22] In August 2015, Showtime commissioned a pilot for an upcoming series, The Chi, written by Waithe and produced by Common, which tells a young urban Black-American man's coming-of-age story.[25] As the show's creator, Waithe wanted to mine her experience growing up on the South Side and experiencing its diversity to craft a story that paints a more nuanced portrait of her hometown than is typically shown.[26] Similarly, she extended her influence to support the Black-American community in the entertainment industry through her role as co-chair of the Committee of Black Writers at the Writers Guild.[15]

In 2015, Waithe was cast in the Netflix series Master of None after meeting creator and lead actor Aziz Ansari who, with Alan Yang, had originally written Denise as a straight, white woman with the potential, according to Waithe, to evolve into one of the main character's love interests: "For some reason, [casting director] Allison Jones thought about me for it, a Black gay woman."[12] Ansari and Yang rewrote the script to make the character more like Waithe: "All of us actors play heightened versions of ourselves."[12] She said, "I don't know if we've seen a sly, harem pants-wearing, cool Topshop sweatshirt-wearing, snapback hat-rocking lesbian on TV."[10] She also said, "I know how many women I see out in the world who are very much like myself. We exist. To me, the visibility of it was what was going to be so important and so exciting."[10]

In 2017, Waithe and Ansari won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for the season 2 episode "Thanksgiving".[27] She became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy in that category.[27][28][29] Waithe described the episode as based on her coming out experience as a lesbian.[30] During her Emmy speech, she sent a special message to her LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual)[31] family discussing how "The things that make us different—those are our superpowers."[32] She ended her speech by recognizing her journey as a Black woman, saying, "Thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little queer Black girl from the South Side of Chicago."[33] Waithe also developed an autobiographical drama series, The Chi.[34][35] Out Magazine named Waithe the Out100: Artist of the Year on November 8, 2017.[36]

Since 2018, Waithe has provided the voiceover of the tagline of AT&T commercials.[37]

Waithe wrote and produced the road trip-crime film Queen & Slim, starring Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya, and directed by Melina Matsoukas. It was released on November 27, 2019, by Universal Pictures.[38]

In 2020, Waithe lent her voice to the Pixar animated film Onward, portraying the cyclops police officer Specter, the first queer animated character in Disney history.[39]

She focuses on recruiting more people of color and queer artists for her film and television projects.[40] In 2020 her production company, Hillman Grad Productions, opened a mentoring and training program[41] with financial support from the Froneri ice-cream company.[42] More recently, she inked a deal with the Warner Bros. TV Group in order to develop a TV version of Hoop Dreams.[43]

Personal life

Waithe is a masculine-presenting lesbian.[44][45][46] She became engaged in 2017 to Alana Mayo,[47][48] a content executive. They married in 2019 in San Francisco.[49] On January 23, 2020, Waithe and Mayo announced that they had separated after two months of marriage.[50] In November 2020, Mayo filed for divorce from Waithe; the single status of both was restored on May 24, 2021, with agreement for spousal support, and dividing up of property and other assets.[51]

Waithe has described her family as "lazy Christians" and said in 2018, "I'm a huge believer in God, and Jesus Christ, and that God made me and all those things. And I try to just be a good person. I think that is the base of my religion, is to be good, is to be honest."[52]



Year Title Role Notes
2011 Save Me Short film; Director, writer
2014 Dear White People Producer
2014 Ladylike Co-producer
2018 Step Sisters Producer
2018 Ready Player One Aech / Helen
2019 Queen & Slim Screenwriter, co-producer
2020 Bad Hair Brook-Lynne
2020 The Forty-Year-Old Version Producer
2020 Onward Officer Specter (voice)
2021 The One and Only Dick Gregory Herself Also executive producer
2022 Beauty Screenwriter, producer
2023 House Party Herself
2023 A Thousand and One Producer
2023 Kokomo City Executive producer



Year Title Role Notes
2014 The Comeback Summer Episode: "Valerie Faces the Critics"
2015, 2017,
Master of None Denise Main Role
2016 Transparent Jane Episode: "Elizah"
2018 This Is Us Animal Shelter Clerk Episode: "That'll Be the Day"
2018 Dear White People P. Ninny 3 episodes
2019 A Black Lady Sketch Show Office Employee Episode: "Your Boss Knows You Don't Have Eyebrows"
2020 The Healing Powers of Dude Lord Dingwall Episode: "I'll Be Right Here"
2020 Westworld Ash 8 episodes
2020 The Chi Camille Hallaway 2 episodes
2020 Big Mouth Lena Foreman (voice) 2 episodes
2022 The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder Adult Maya Leibowitz-Jenkins (voice) Episode: "When You Wish Upon a Roker"


Year Title Role Notes
2012 M.O Diaries Writer TV series
2012 How to Rock Writer 2 episodes
2013 Hello Cupid Writer 7 episodes
2014–2015 Bones Staff writer 15 episodes
2015, 2017,
Master of None Writer 6 episodes
2018–present The Chi Creator; writer 8 episodes
2019–2020 Boomerang Creator; writer; executive producer 4 episodes
2020 Twenties Creator; executive producer 8 episode


Year Title Role Notes
2021 Them Executive producer TV series

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Work Result
2015 Independent Spirit Awards Best First Feature Dear White People Nominated
2015 Gotham Awards Audience Award Nominated
2015 Black Reel Outstanding Motion Picture Nominated
2017 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Writing - Comedy Series "Thanksgiving", Master of None Won
2018 Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle Trailblazer Award Nominated
2018 Writers Guild of America Comedy Series Master of None Nominated
2018 NAACP Image Awards Writing - Comedy Series Nominated
2018 MTV Movie Award Best on Screen Team Ready Player One Nominated
2019 St. Louis Film Critics Association Best Original Screenplay Queen & Slim Nominated
2019 Black Film Critics Circle Awards Best Original Screenplay Won
2023[53] Tony Awards Best Play Ain't No Mo' Nominated


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  38. ^ Jodie Smith-Turner to Star Opposite Daniel Kaluuya in ‘Queen & Slim’ (EXCLUSIVE)
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  53. ^ "2023 Tony Awards Nominees". www.tonyawards.com. Retrieved May 4, 2023.