Lena Waithe – who became the first black woman ever to win an Emmy for comedy writing on Sunday – mined her own life for the "Thanksgiving" episode of Master of None

By Lindsay Kimble
September 17, 2017 10:21 PM
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Lena Waithe made history on Sunday night, becoming the first-ever black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing.

Taking the Emmys stage with co-writer and Master of None castmate Aziz Ansari, Waithe received a standing ovation from the star-studded audience.

Waithe thanked her mother “for inspiring the story and letting me share it with the world,” and gave a shout out to her “LGBQTIA family.”

“I see each and every one of you,” she said. “The things that make us different are our super powers.”

Waithe’s Emmy specifically recognized the series’ season two “Thanksgiving” episode – in which she starred. In the emotional installment, Waithe’s character Denise’s on-screen family was revisited on the holiday over several decades – with her mother portrayed by Angela Bassett, aunt by Kym Whitley and grandmother by Venida Evans.

Each year, Waithe’s sexuality evolved as she grew up, with the episode documenting her first coming out to friend Dev (Ansari), then her mother, and eventually dealt with her family’s reaction when she brought several women home as dates for the meal.

The story is very personal for Waithe – it’s mined from her own life.

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In fact, sharing the story on the small screen was initially unintentional, and was spawned from a personal conversation that Waithe had with series co-creator Alan Yang. “[He] asked me, ‘Hey, how did you come out?’ We had this long conversation about it, and how religion didn’t play a huge role in my family, and I grew up in a house of women,” Waithe explained to Vulture. “I didn’t even make it back to my hotel when Aziz called and said, ‘We have to tell that story, and I need you to write it.’ I’m like, ‘I already have a full plate, I trust you guys,’ and they’re like, ‘No, you have to write it.’ ”

Credit: Phil McCarten/Invision for the Television Academy/AP

Though Waithe shared that there was “some creative license” involved in translating her story, she revealed that many pieces of the set were pulled from her own mother’s home, including family photographs.

“They saw some old pictures of me growing up, too, so it became more and more autobiographical as we got deeper into the episode, which I really welcomed,” she explained. “I think there’s definitely a difference between myself and Denise, and I try to separate her because we’re so intertwined, but because that story is so specific to my experience, we leaned into it.”

Waithe also came out to her family in a similar way, revealing that after she told her mother at a diner, just as in the episode.

Credit: Phil McCarten/Invision for the Television Academy/AP

“It was really just that one person for me, and we were in a diner — all that stuff is real — and it was post college,” she explained. “It’s scary; it’s nerve-racking. You have to prepare yourself for the worst. I knew I wasn’t going to be disowned, but the dynamic of your relationships change a little bit.”

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Overall, the entire experience of using Denise to tell her story was “vindicating,” Waithe told Time this year.

“When you’re in the moment [of coming out], you feel very insecure,” she said. “You feel very vulnerable. You feel alone in the world. But to have survived that moment and come out of it the other side and be a successful person who is celebrated and embraced by the audience, I’m really proud of that.”

The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, hosted by Stephen Colbert, are airing live on CBS from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.