Lena Waithe’s “Vanity Fair” cover changes everything

Under the new and refreshing leadership of editor-in-chief Radhika Jones, Vanity Fair has crashed into a new era. For the magazine’s April 2018 cover, Jones decided to feature actor and Emmy Award-winning writer Lena Waithe. Waithe’s appearance on Vanity Fair’s cover is a groundbreaking move for the publication, known for featuring A-list (and mostly white) mega-celebs like Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, and Angelina Jolie.

Waithe may be best known for playing Denise — “the wise, occasionally wiseass lesbian,” as Jones wrote in her editor’s letter — on Netflix’s Master of None. But a lot is going on in Waithe’s career right now that led her to the Vanity Fair cover. She’s headed for the big screen in Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Ready Player One. And Waithe also lends her writing and producing talents to her Showtime series, The Chi.

It’s her talent and hard work that gave Waithe the platform to be a much-needed black, queer icon in the entertainment industry, and she realizes how important her role in Hollywood is. As her Vanity Fair interviewer, National Book Award-winning poet Jacqueline Woodson wrote, “[Waithe’s] arrival is a small, long-awaited revelation. Her arrival is our arrival.”

"Here’s the irony of it all," Waithe told Woodson. "I don’t need an Emmy to tell me to go to work. I’ve been working. I’ve been writing, I’ve been developing, I’ve been putting pieces together and I’m bullets, you know what I’m saying?"

Lena Waithe advocates and is working toward a new, inclusive Hollywood. She wants to see the industry progress so that she can walk into a writer’s room and clearly see diverse representation, as she explained to fellow Chi writer Dime Davis in a mini-interview.

"Arguments that have simmered for years — about the importance of championing women, new voices, people who come from a wide range of ethnicities and backgrounds — are finding an audience," Jones wrote in her April editor's letter. "That comes with tremendous opportunity: to draw attention to the people who are on the culture’s cutting edge, whose talent and creative vision transform the ways we see the world and ourselves."

Those who have yet to see themselves being represented by mainstream Hollywood are not taking Waithe’s cover lightly, nor should they. This is a powerful and huge step toward wider inclusion in the entertainment industry.

Of course, there is still work to be done in the field of expanding inclusion and diversifying Hollywood. But Lena Waithe’s image on the cover of Vanity Fair has shown that change can happen, and that it is happening. Now that the floodgates have been opened, we cannot wait to see the tides change.

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