Lena Waithe (born May 17, 1984) is an American actress, producer, and screenwriter. She is known for co-writing and acting in the Netflix series Master of None. Waithe made history at the 69th annual Primetime Emmy Awards when she won Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for her work on Master of None, becoming the first black woman to do so. The "Thanksgiving" episode for which she won the Emmy was partially based on her personal experience coming out to her mother. She is the creative force behind the Showtime series The Chi.
Waithe was born in Chicago, Illinois. Though acting was not originally among Waithe's ambitions, 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. Her parents divorced when she was three. Waithe and her sister grew up on the South Side of Chicago until Waithe was age twelve, and attended a local, mostly African-American Elementary magnet school, Turner-Drew. She graduated from Evanston Township High School and earned a degree in Cinema and Television Arts from Columbia College Chicago in 2006, praising faculty playwright Michael Fry for his teaching and encouragement.
Waithe has been a writer for the Fox television series Bones, a writer for the 2012 Nickelodeon sitcom How to Rock, and a producer on the 2014 satirical comedy film Dear White People. Waithe wrote and appeared in the YouTube series "Twenties" which was produced by Flavor Unit Entertainment and optioned in 2014 by BET. In addition to writing and directing the short film "Save Me", which was shown at several independent film festivals, Waithe wrote the 2013 web series "Hello Cupid" and the 2011 viral video Shit Black Girls Say.
In 2014, Variety named Waithe as one of its "10 Comedians to Watch". In August 2015, Showtime network commissioned a pilot for an upcoming series, The Chi, written by Waithe and produced by Common, which tells a young urban African-American man's coming-of-age story. As the show’s creator, Waithe’s goal was to bring 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.
Waithe was cast in 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." Ansari and Yang rewrote the script to make the character more like Waithe: "All of us actors play heightened versions of ourselves." 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." 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."
In 2017, Waithe and Ansari won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for the season 2 episode "Thanksgiving". She became the first black woman to win the award. Waithe described the episode as based on her coming-out experience as a lesbian. In her Emmy speech, she sent a special message to her LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual) family discussing how "The things that make us different—those are our superpowers.". She ended her speech by recognizing her journey as a minority saying "thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a little queer black girl from the South Side of Chicago.” Waithe also developed an autobiographical drama series called The Chi. Out Magazine named Waithe the Out100: Artist of the Year on November 8, 2017.
Waithe has been in a relationship with Alana Mayo, a content executive, for three years. She attended the Emmys with her longtime girlfriend and mentioned Mayo during her Emmy speech, saying "I love you more than life itself." They were engaged on Thanksgiving Day 2017.