Give it up for Lena Waithe – who gave it up to Pepper LaBeija, Willi Ninja and the ‘Paris Is Burning’ stars who ‘strutted through a brick wall’ to make a world possible for Lena and other LGBQT people!
If there’s anyone who defines “trailblazer,” it is Lena Waithe, 34. The actress, writer and South Side native has been making waves both on Master of None, The Chi, Dear White People, and Ready Player One. It’s this collective work – along with being 100% pure badass – that earned her the 2018 MTV Trailblazer Award. However, while accepting the honor, Lena decided to use her voice to lift up those who blazed their own path decades before her: Pepper LaBeija, Willi Ninja, Angie Extravaganza, and every one of the queens and superstars highlighted in the 1991 documentary, Paris Is Burning.
Saying that these gay men, trans women, drag queens and queer people “strutted through a brick wall so we wouldn’t have to,” Lena made sure the children knew where the terms “shade” and “reading” came from. This honor and respect to those who came before her is just part of why Lena deserves the Trailblazer award. While she’s doing great work making a better future with her art, she’s also keeping her history in her mind, knowing how hard others worked so that she and the following generations would have it better.
Lena made some long-overdue history in 2016. Her work on Master Of None, specifically the “Thanksgiving” episode she wrote, won her the Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. Hard to believe, but she was the first (and currently only) black woman to win that award. The critically-acclaimed “Thanksgiving” episode has been called “one of the best coming out stories” in television history, and she graciously gave love to her community when she accepted the award.
— Bobby Rivers (@BobbyRiversTV) June 19, 2018
— Nicki Mayo (@nickimayonews) June 19, 2018
“I love you all and last but certainly not least my LGBTQIA family,” she said at the end of her speech, per Time. “I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different, those are our superpowers — every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.” Lena also slayed at the 2018 Met Ball. During a night where the theme focused on the Catholic Church and fashion, Lena showed up in a full rainbow cloak (because, y’know, the Church hasn’t had the best relationship with LGBTQIA people since…ever.)
“Lena is shaking up Hollywood and breaking cultural boundaries through her innovative and authentic storytelling,” said Amy Doyle, general manager of MTV, VH1 and Logo, when announcing the honor, per Variety. “Her unwavering passion for equality and inclusion make her the perfect recipient for this year’s Trailblazer Award.”