Following last year’s breakout success, Master of None avoided the sophomore slump with a critically acclaimed and Emmy-nominated season two.
Among its eight nominations — up from four last year — is one for Lena Waithe, who, in addition to playing Denise, co-wrote the standout episode “Thanksgiving” with the Netflix series co-creator and star Aziz Ansari. The episode earned them a shared nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, putting them up against episodes for Atlanta, Silicon Valley and Veep. The episode also earned Angela Bassett, who plays Denise’s mother, a nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series.
While the recognition is a “wonderful gift,” Waithe tells ET “there’s so much reward to have such a creative outlet to tell my story and to talk about things in a way that people have thought about, but have never said.”
For this episode in particular, which tells the story of Denise coming out to herself, her friends and family over five Thanksgivings starting when she’s 12 years old, it’s not one seen on TV very often. It’s a black story. It’s a female story. It’s a queer story. It’s all three combined, told through this unique narrative of gathering around the same dining room table over the course of 22 years.
“I didn’t realize that hadn’t been done before. I was like, ‘Have black girls never come out on television?’” Waithe recalls talking to Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang about the concept of the episode. She credits their curiosity about how the actress-writer got to where she is now, a confident queer black woman, for pushing her to write her story. “I was like, ‘Oh, good question.’ Because there was a time I was trying to hide,” she says.
While she thanks Yang, Ansari and his younger brother, Aniz, for helping her write the story (“It was very collaborative”), she praises director Melina Matsoukas, who has pivoted from Beyonce music videos to helming episodes of Master of None and Insecure, Bassett and Kym Whitley, the longtime comedic actress who plays Denise’s aunt, for bringing the episode to life. “There was some black girl magic on that set; truly,” Waithe says, gushing over Bassett in particular. “I believe this episode would not be what it was …