'Master Of None's' Lena Waithe On Diversity And Allies
Philip Ellison 28 June, 2017 at 12:06
Master Of None, the Netflix Original Series created by and starring comedian Aziz Ansari, has been praised for all kinds of reasons, from its cinematic vision to its encapsulation of the modern dating experience. But something else which sets Master Of None apart is its effortlessly diverse cast, and the impact that has on the kinds of stories the show is able to tell. Ansari’s character Dev comes from an Indian Muslim family, and simple scenes in which characters talk about whether or not they should eat pork offer up a refreshingly mundane depiction of Muslim life which couldn’t be further from the ubiquitous terror-related stereotype.
Season 2 was filled with these authentic human moments, most notably in “Thanksgiving,” a bottle episode penned by Lena Waithe, which revisits her character Denise’s family for Thanksgiving dinner over 20 years, and demonstrates how coming out as LGBTQ is not a single moment but a journey that takes time. There are layers to the story; it’s a coming out narrative, sure, but also a portrayal of a lifelong friendship between two minorities, and a loving homage to black women. (It’s also, incidentally, a laugh-out-loud funny recollection of Nineties pop culture.)
During an intimate panel on Twitter Beach during last week’s Cannes Lions, Waithe chatted with Refinery29 co-founder Piera Gelardi about the importance of diversity and representation in storytelling.
Looking back on her own career, Gelardi recalls the perception from a young age that girls simply aren’t encouraged in the same way that boys are, and that this extends to the media she consumed. Women were rarely portrayed as leaders or adventurers, a deficit which is only beginning to be tackled today.
While both agree that visibility in media is essential, Waithe is also wary of the burden of representation as a lesbian writer of colour, and tries to avoid the trap of writing as a monolith. Her work is undeniably informed by various aspects of her own identity, whether that’s as a black woman, or a lesbian, or someone from Chicago, but it is her hope that as the TV schedules get less uniformly homogenous, there’ll be less pressure on the Shondas of the world be all things to all people.
One thing Gelardi admits to having struggled with is recognising and understanding her own privilege, as a white educated woman; a journey that plenty more people will have to undertake in order to disrupt the pale, male status quo. “We need more allies,” says Waithe. “The Civil Rights Movement would never have happened if it was just black people marching.”
As films, TV and books from more diverse creators enter mainstream culture, there will be inevitable pushback from those who feel that diversity is being thrust upon them and upending the white, male, heterosexual, cisgender default. Just look at the uproar over any recent blockbuster headlined by women, from Ghostbusters to Wonder Woman. The way Waithe sees it, this conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “We’re in a period of transition,” she says. “And that can be uncomfortable… but uncomfortable is good.” Gelardi is more succinct in her appraisal: “F*ck the haters,” she says, with a smile.