Lena Waithe talks Denise’s coming out in the second season of Master of None and where she wants queer storytelling to go from here.
One of Master of None‘s best qualities remains how open it is in telling honest stories. Now in its second season, Netflix’s comedy explores the loneliness of online dating and processing emotions after a break-up. Since it doesn’t follow a particularly linear structure, you sometimes don’t know what you’re going to get. One of the best surprises to emerge is Denise’s (Lena Waithe) coming out in “Thanksgiving.”
Any time Lena Waithe appears, she warms up the screen. She doesn’t have to do much other than raise an eyebrow or shoot a retort back to Aziz Ansari’s Dev, and she captures a laugh. “Thanksgiving,” however, is a different story. For the first time, we see Denise’s vulnerable place as she struggles to come out to her mother, played by the great Angela Bassett. Coming out stories are not new to the LGBT canon, but Waithe’s episode (which she wrote) is a breath of fresh air.
Returning for Round Two
Master took a considerable break between the first and second season. Not only did the audience miss the show, but the cast and creative force were eager to return. Waithe was able to keep herself busy during the time off.
“I know! It was a bit of a break. The funny thing is that a lot of us have other jobs. Some of us are writers, so when we weren’t on Master, we were in a writer’s room which is also our safe space. It’s fun to do, so when we do get the call to come to New York, we get to go out there and take a break from our daily grinds and play and have fun. I got to do some writing this season, but it was great to be back with Aziz. It feels good to bring those characters back and get the reaction.”
Inviting You to “Thanksgiving”
According to Waithe, the process of creating this episode came very naturally. The writers weren’t just sitting around a table pitching ideas to one another, but the themes came from a very personal place.
You can feel the honesty in all of the dialogue and the chemistry of the actors in this particular episode.
“I was really grateful and honored to write this episode. It came about very organically. I thought I was going to just be talking about things in my relationship in real life. In that conversation, someone asked me how I came out. I started telling the story and started talking about my mom and my aunt and my grandmother and me growing up. For some reason, I hadn’t really gotten into that with them, and they were really fascinated by it. They thought that should be the episode, and by the time I got to my hotel they wanted to do an episode about it. They also wanted me to write it. The idea of it being on ‘Thanksgiving’ was born out of the room, and then Aziz and I came together to do the outline.”
Waithe admits that she knew who to bring home to her family.
“The only person I brought home was the person based on Michelle. I know better than that, but mind you, I’ve dated that girl like everybody else. Straight guys say, ‘I went through that phase.’ It happens in the gay community too. We thought it would be funny if we brought that girl home and make everyone say, ‘Well we don’t like her being a lesbian, but at least bring someone we can have a conversation with.’ That was something from me talking about my dating life with Aziz and stuff I’ve gone through. We’re a lot more alike than we are different.”
The Direction After The Closet
The coming out story is the most prominent story arc in LGBT storytelling, and Waithe never thought she’d put herself out there in that way. Even though the episode is one of the most embraced of this second season, she is more eager to explore what comes next.
“Honestly, with my career and what I write, that’s not something I wanted to tackle–the coming out. I am all about queer stories happening post that. I think we are so much more than the coming out story, but I do think that it’s been so important. With this episode and the reaction we’ve gotten and the love we’ve gotten from it shows the queer community—especially the queer community of color—is underserved. My mission is to tell our stories in a very normal way where you don’t have to do that. The great thing is I’ve done this. I don’t have to do it again or tell that story again. For me, I now want to tell stories from the queer perspective once we’ve graduated college and have the rights of passage moment. We come out, have the awkward moment, and we’re fly. We’re dating and out there living. That’s what I want, and I’m actively trying to make that happen.”
A Mother of a Legend
When you find out that Angela Bassett plays Denise’s mom, you instantly want to watch. The legendary actress popped up regularly in quality television shows in the last few years, and she delivers a performance as a concerned mother that a lot of gay people will recognize.
Her on-screen bond with Waithe feels very strong and genuine. There is a moment towards the end of the episode where Bassett grabs Waithe’s hand that is quite effective.
“It was phenomenal. She’s a freaking legend, but it’s not even that. She is so sweet and so normal and so chill and fun. You can ask her about any movie she’s been in, and she’ll give it to you—she’ll give you a real answer. We’d just be sitting at her feet and fawning over her. She had to be thinking, ‘These kids are obsessed!’ We were in shock that she was doing the show, but she took it so seriously. You could tell she was there to do it well. We just appreciated that. She knew it was a personal story. The episode wouldn’t be what it is if it weren’t for her. We were grateful for her to do that.”
Watching Over Another Baby
A lot of people might not know that Waithe was a producer on 2014’s feature film Dear White People, but she’s not part of the Netflix series. Even though she’s no longer involved with the project, she feels a connection to the series because of the bond she has with the show’s creator, Justin Simien.
“Justin Simien is my best friend, so I feel like the godmother or the godaunt of the TV show. I’m obsessed with it. He’s pushing culture forward. He’s showing us that you can make really smart, thoughtful, and flawed black characters that are authentic. It’s told through his lens. His vision. A show like that can get really twisted by someone who says, ‘I don’t get this.’ Netflix and the team around him ensure that he can tell the story in a very specific way, and I get a kick out of it. It does raise the bar.”
The Next Step
Master of None Season 3 hasn’t gone into development yet (“That’s more of an Aziz question,” she tells me), but Waithe isn’t slowing down. She is curious about where Denise’s relationship will go with Michelle, but she is open to ideas.
She also wants to get more personal stories out there.
“I have some ideas. I want to do something with my story—something autobiographical. That’s all I’ll say. I’m hoping I could get that TV show off the ground. My mission is to make that happen.”
Both seasons of Master of None currently stream on Netflix.