Lena Waithe credits Mara Brock Akil’s ‘Girlfriends’ for paving the way at 2024 Oscars

Waithe told theGrio exclusively that working as an assistant on the long-running UPN sitcom changed her life. 

Lena Waithe attends the 96th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday, March 10, 2024, in Hollywood. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Lena Waithe is an Emmy-winning, Tony-nominated actress, producer and screenwriter who has created hit shows like “The Chi” and “Twenties.” But 20 years ago, she was just a fresh-faced assistant looking for her first opportunity. Enter Mara Brock Akil.

Waithe told theGrio exclusively at the 2024 Academy Awards in Los Angeles that Akil’s “Girlfriends” represented a defining moment in her career and in her life. Waithe — who, in 2017, became the first Black woman to win an Emmy Award for outstanding writing for a comedy series — said that working as an assistant on the long-running UPN sitcom changed her life. 

“That was my first job, you know, on a set,” Waithe revealed on the red carpet at the Dolby Theatre. “I think there are people that might think, ‘Oh, I can think of a couple [other] defining moments, Lena.’ But for me, that was a big opportunity. That was the beginning that would lead to all those other cool things that I could mention, but that one was really special. Mara Brock Akil, who I love.”

Waithe not only sung Akil’s praises on the Oscars’ red carpet, but she also acknowledged several of the Black actors and creatives who were nominated or honored this awards season. She said the 2024 Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards was particularly special for her because she was close friends with some of the honorees, including Oscar nominee Danielle Brooks and “All American” executive producer Nkechi Carroll

69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Show
(Left to right) Actor/writers Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe accept Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for “Master of None” (episode “Thanksgiving”) onstage during the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on Sept. 17, 2017, in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) Credit: Photo byKevin Winter / Getty Images

Waithe went on to gush about being a Black creative in Hollywood, sharing that her community brings her a sense of “joy.”

“I love being Black,” the screenwriter said. “I do — even though work in Hollywood can be frustrating. I love being able to come and play and be a part of this industry, in this community, and tell stories that touch people and stay with people. Because I was a person that benefited from those kinds of stories that stay with me and touch me as well.” 

Looking ahead, Waithe will continue telling those stories. Season six, part two of her hit Showtime series, “The Chi,” will debut on May 12. The new season will feature several new talented cast members, including “A Different World” alum Kadeem Hardison, “Cool Runnings” actor Leon and “On My Block” star Brett Gray.

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