Emmy-winning writer Lena Waithe is bringing the story based on her life to the small screen in BET’s latest hit Twenties.
Twenties follows Hattie (Jonica T. Gibbs) as she navigates her way to her dream of being a television writer but having to overcome the hurdles of starting at the bottom of the totem pole in Hollywood. Luckily, Hattie has her two best friends by her side, Marie (Christina Elmore) and Nia (Gabrielle Graham), helping and guiding her along the way through the stumbles of working with one of Hollywood’s toughest producers Ida B (Sophina Brown), while also having Hattie’s back when it comes to her complicated love life.
Jonica T. Gibbs talks to Awards Daily about her work on Twenties, what it was like playing a fictional version of Lena Waithe, and how important this role is to her for being able to portray a very unique queer Black character that’s seldomly seen on television.
Awards Daily: I absolutely loved Twenties; I must say that! There is a realness to Hattie that is refreshing because we don’t get to see many queer black women on TV or in film in starring roles; they’re usually relegated to one-dimensional supporting characters. You must be proud to be portraying such a strong and unique character who is unapologetically herself?
Jonica Gibbs: Oh yeah! I have so much gratitude honestly for being given the assignment of, you know, playing this character in an honest way. It was really God’s timing in terms of how I landed the role and how I was given the opportunity to audition. It was really a signifier for me that I’m supposed to be here, and I can be here how I am, because it’s actually tough trying to get into this industry. It’s like you don’t know what perception of yourself will work and sometimes you overthink. What I learned was being yourself is the absolute easiest way to achieve and it’s the easiest form of yourself that you’ll ever be in. I’m really grateful that I was going through my process of coming into myself and was able to find this character and relate to her own interpretation of struggles, not only with her love life, but also trying to get into the industry as well. So I just really identified with Hattie, I was like her in a lot of ways. We’re kind of in the same place.
AD: Twenties was created by Lena Waithe and is based off her life. Once you got the part of Hattie, were you nervous to be playing a part based of Waithe’s real-life persona?
JG: I was not nervous! To be honest with you, Lena didn’t put any pressure on me because I asked her straight up like, how much you do you want me to emulate? Of course, I tried to the best of my ability to be like her. Twenties was my first audition, so there was that pressure of “Okay, I really absolutely have to knock this out of the park because I never know how I’m going to get to this position again.” However, at that time that I didn’t have an agent or manager, and I never had an audition before. Lena giving me the autonomy to express myself through my art and her words, and the words of the writers’ room, but doing it in my own depiction though. I loved and appreciated that.
AD: I love seeing strong black female friendships on television. I’d lump Twenties in with the greats like Living Single, Girlfriends and Insecure. How does it make you feel being able to show this kind of relationship between Hattie, Marie, and Nia?
JG: I love it! I personally have a large circle of female friends that I had in middle school all the way up through college. I love that Twenties shows this dynamic of friendship because that’s literally how I got to where I am – it was through my friendship with my two best friends! My best friends were so significant in pushing me to pursue this career. I won’t sit here and act like I was always confident, I wasn’t!
AD: I need to touch on that love life between Hattie, Ida B., Idina and Lorraine. Hattie had a lot going on! How thrilling was it to be able to play this queer Black woman with a true and honest and sometimes messy love life?
JG: I don’t even think I realized the impact of it honestly, because I’m playing the character in the moment. It’s not a queer thing, It’s not a gay thing. I know for a fact that straight people go through it, too, in terms of finding somebody. I’m glad the recognition of a demographic exists and representation I think everybody deserves to have. Representation on television is extremely important because a lot of times, especially to other people like from other countries, a lot of times what they see of us on television is the only representation they have of that demographic. You know, that’s why it’s so important not only to show Black or Hispanic people only doing crimes, only being portrayed as thugs and criminals. People in Switzerland may be watching and they’re only perception of a Black person is what they see. These demographics need to be humanized on screen. Show they can have friendships, laugh, cry and be in love. I just know the importance of representation and how it’s presented. Of course it’s television, but I think overall what this character represents is that she is unique and confident, and there’s space for people who are allowed to be themselves.
AD: I thought it was amazing to show this Black queer woman with a true love life with true layers. I do appreciate the work that you have put into Hattie, and to let everybody else who may be watching Twenties that this kind of person does exist. I do appreciate that!
JG: Thank you so much! I really do appreciate that!
AD: So do you have any insight on an upcoming second season? I screamed in the finale when Ida B. was waiting for Hattie on her doorstep, even after Ida B. fired Hattie. I screamed and cheered. I need to see the continuation of this love story!
JG: I’m going to tell you straight up, they keep the gate closed when it comes to announcements like that. People think I have the side door information. (Laugsh) I’m really hopeful though, I guess until they make an official announcement, I’ll know just as much as you, but you know I’m hopeful is what I’ll say.
AD: I’m very optimistic and I’m rooting for you guys to come back and tell this amazing story!
Twenties is currently streaming on BET.