The 2017 Emmys had a lot of big winners. Shows like This is Us, Atlanta, Game of Thrones and much more walked across the stage with faces brimming with excitement to claim their golden statue. The winners had people to thank, issues they wanted to bring to light using their platform, and more than a few Trump zingers. That night was a star-studded affair with some of the most recognizable actors and actresses in attendance but somewhere in the crowd, sat the lesser known, first African-American woman to win in the “Outstanding Writing for a Comedy” category and her name is Lena Waithe.
Lena Waithe’s most visible role is on the show, Master of None, in which she plays as Denise. Her role develops as Aziz Ansari’s’ character, Dev, childhood friend. A queer Black woman who helps Dev navigate his romantic life with advice, accompanying him on various adventures through the show. Aside from being an actress, Waithe is an accomplished writer. Her credits include writing for the television shows Bones, Hello Cupid, and Master of None. Most recently her Master of None episode “Thanksgiving” was co-written with Aziz Ansari and is responsible for her Emmy win.
“Thanksgiving” is the eighth episode of the second season of Master of None. The episode follows Dev as he recalls his time spent at Denise’s house every Thanksgiving at Denise’s. As they grow throughout childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood, the viewers are shown a peek into Denise’s journey as she discovers her sexuality and the challenges with having to come out to her family. The source material for the episode comes from Waithe’s own life as she had to deal with some of the same themes growing up in Chicago. There is a definite personal touch to the writing as you watch her story progress on screen. We watch as Denise fantasizes about her sexual attractions, tries to hide the smell of marijuana in her room, and struggles to talk with her mother about her sexuality. We are also treated with great cultural references of the times, a discussion of the OJ trial and cultural comedy of growing up in a Black household, such as playing spades.
The show does a particularly good job highlighting the societal and familial pressures of being a part of the LGBTQ+ community as a Black person. Early in the episode, Denise tries to explain to Dev how she believes that being lesbian can be a source of shame for Black families. Further on, Denise comes out to her mother, played by Angela Bassett, and we are treated to hearing both sides of how they took the conversation. The scenes are great because they are delivered with a vulnerable honesty that fuels conversations that people have to navigate in real life.
Master of None has had two successful seasons spearheaded by Aziz Ansari. It is an award-winning romantic comedy that has continuously impressed viewers time after time. “Thanksgiving” may have found the perfect balance of situational comedy, intimate acting, and modern perspective to be the best of the series. That is in no small part to Lena Waithe. 10/10