Lena Waithe on American Black Film Festival, advice for Black creatives

TheGrio's Jared Alexander caught up with the writer, actress and producer at the ABFF festival currently underway in Miami Beach.

Lena Waithe is American Black Film Festival’s official ambassador this year, and theGrio caught up with the multi-hyphenate creator, breaking down her thoughts on the current cultural “renaissance” in film, her advice for young Black creatives just breaking into the field and more.

As theGrio previously reported, ABFF has returned to Miami Beach, Florida, once again “recognizing Black talent and showcasing quality film and television content by and about people of African descent.” As this year’s official ambassador, Waithe participated in an inspiring event at New World Center on June 15 titled “The Lena Waithe Effect.”

Ahead of the interview, theGrio’s Jared Alexander caught up with the “Queen & Slim” creator on the red carpet.

They Cloned Tyrone Opens The American Black Film Festival
Lena Waithe speaks onstage as “They Cloned Tyrone” opens The American Black Film Festival on June 14, 2023, at New World Center in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jason Koerner/Getty Images for Netflix)

Recalling one of her first gigs in the industry as Gina Prince-Bythewood’s apprentice, Waithe said, “Coming up as an assistant, I would go to panels with Gina, and I wouldn’t be wearing a sign that said I was her assistant, so people would be stepping over me to get to her.”

“The crazy thing is, Gina would say, ‘You have to talk to my assistant,’ and they’d have to come back around, and we had been sitting next to each other the whole time and they didn’t say anything .. that’s something I realized in my own body as an assistant like, you never know who you’re sitting next to, you know?”

Speaking to the importance of networking and cultivating relationships, she continued, “Look to the side and introduce yourself because chances are you’re sitting next to somebody that has the same dream as you, trying to do the same thing as you and you can build community, and be on that panel yourselves in a few years,” she added.

She also spoke to us about the current cultural landscape in media, calling it a “renaissance” where the lines between writing, producing, and acting can and often are encouraged to blur.

“I think people are finding so many different ways to get into the industry … I am definitely holding the door open for folks and how they get to me is in many different ways. There isn’t one storybook way to do it.”

“I’m looking for folks to get really innovative and having fun and building their own brands, so that when we get together we are really collaborating, and not just one working for the other,” she added.

For more on ABFF, including the slate and virtual passes through ABFF Play, head to the official site here.

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