Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Loved Me Some Lena Waithe on CBS THIS MORNING

Yes, an inspiration and a role model can be years younger than you are.  And of the opposite sex.  To this Black man -- well into the AARP category -- young, gifted and Black Lena Waithe is an inspiration and a role model.   My introduction to her was when I discovered her fierce freshness and terrific comic acting skill on the Netflix sitcom, MASTER OF NONE, starring Aziz Ansari.  She plays what she is in real life -- one of his best friends and a smart young female who's openly lesbian. She is a master at underplaying a comedy scene and casually tossing off a comedy line in a most memorable way.  It's so natural.  Lena Waithe wrote one of the best episodes of that sitcom or of any other sitcom I saw last year.  Her character comes out to her family at Thanksgiving.  For that episode, she deservedly won an Emmy.  Lena Waithe became the first Black woman to win an Emmy for outstanding writing in a comedy series.
For Showtime, she has created a new drama series set in Chicago, her hometown.  She's also the executive producer.  The series is called THE CHI.  It's Tuesday, January 9th, and I saw Lena Waithe visit CBS THIS MORNING for an in-studio interview.  She was excellent.
She told Gayle King how deeply she connected to Oprah Winfrey's recent special achievement award acceptance speech on the Golden Globes.  Oprah mentioned how seeing Sidney Poitier win the Oscar for LILIES OF THE FIELD was so significant to her as she watched, a little girl in Milwaukee.

I fully understand how Oprah felt.  We're the same age.  I vividly recall being a little boy, sitting on the living room floor in front of the big bulky box of a black and white TV, and watching when Anne Bancroft announced "...and the winner is...Sidney Poitier!"  There he was with his excited, joyful, grateful and handsome self in a tuxedo.  Anne Bancroft, a future co-star, was also joyful and excited. She kissed him on live TV in that Civil Rights era when network TV execs tried to forbid such a public display of interracial affection between artists.
I remember Mom and Dad gasping with "Hallelujah" happiness and saying "He did it!" when Sidney Poitier's name was announced as the Best Actor Oscar winner.  He was the first Black man ever nominated for an Oscar -- and the first to win.
Seeing Mr. Poitier that night made me feel so significant, as I'm sure it did Oprah too.  I felt hopeful.  I felt that there could be a place for me also in an entertainment field.  I saw myself, my family and our community represented in his wonderful presence.

Today, Lena Waite said that she had the exact same feeling when she watched the Oscar and Halle Berry became the first Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress.  That was in 2002.  Halle Berry is, as of now, still the only Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress.

In the lives of Lena Waithe, Oprah Winfrey and myself... this is proof that representation matters.  If you've read my previous blog posts and listened to my podcasts, you know that I (with Keith Price) constantly call out the need for people of color to be seen on TV reviewing new films and adding insight to classic movies.  The field of film critics and movie hosts that many of us grew up seeing has lacked race and gender diversity.  Tiffany Haddish recently gave such a warm, funny, grateful and memorable acceptance speech at the recent New York Film Critics Circle awards dinner that she should've received a second award for her speech.  She won for her supporting role performance in the hit comedy, GIRLS TRIP.  During her speech, she mentioned that the only movie critics she'd ever seen growing up were Siskel and Ebert on TV.

I'm not an actor with the range and gift of Sidney Poitier.  I wish I was.  But my love affair with the art of films, new and old, started when I was a little boy in South Central L.A.  Our family was in the curfew area during the Watts Riots of the 1960s.  Just nine months before Sidney Poitier won his Oscar, my parents had me join them watching the long CBS live news telecast of the now-historic March on Washington.  We saw Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech when it happened.  The March on Washington for Civil Rights.  African-Americans demanding the right to vote, the right to a decent education, the freedom to sit at a lunch counter and have a sandwich without the fear of being beaten or killed, the right to use a non-segregated restroom.  Think about it.

I went into TV with the intention of changing images about Black people in and from South Central L.A.  In addition to that, I wanted to show that we too should be added to the network TV discussion of films and be added to the conversation with filmmakers.  We have knowledge.  We have history. We have a voice.
And that's why I tried to present race and gender diversity when I had the opportunity to host film talk on TV.
I feel that it's still important.  Just like when I saw Sidney Poitier win the Oscar and when I was moved by Oprah's acceptance speech Sunday on the Golden Globes, I felt very significant -- and proud -- watching Lena Waithe today on CBS THIS MORNING.  Representation matters.

Look for THE CHI on Showtime and MASTER OF NONE on Netflix.

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