Is fame a renewable resource? Lena Waithe makes the case for “duh.”
First seen on Netflix’s Master of None, the writer / producer / performer has two TV shows and a movie out later this year… and a sort-of-secret role on Westworld slated for 2020. She’s also sliding into the fashion space, amplifying queer designers of color on her press tours and debuting her first-ever design at London Fashion Week Men’s just a month ago. Really.
The look came from a Mercedes-Benz master class on upcycling, a term coined by Tara Subkoff in the ’90s. (Definition: revamping a tired item instead of trashing it.) Waithe paired with Timberland’s creative director Christopher Raeburn and designer Duran Lantik, turning old speed racing suits into hoodies, bags, and one sick pair of motocross jeans.
How far can Waithe take the concept of upcycling? How far can see into the future of her creative career? And how far can she hurl a dodgeball at Harry Styles alongside Michelle Obama? Let’s ask…
You’re a Mercedes-Benz ambassador. Are you a good driver?
I think so! The car makes it easier. I mean, I have one and I love it because it’s this epitome of luxury but it’s also a great ride. My car has a vibe.
Are you a speeder?
Much to the other people in the car’s chagrin. It gets a little intense sometimes, and they’re worried. But it’s one of those things that comes from being in Chicago. If you’re from where I’m from, you drive like…
Like Mario Kart?
Oh, so you’ve been to Chicago!
I’m from Boston. We’re worse. You mentioned Mercedes-Benz is a luxury symbol, but their focus on conservation and this upcycling initiative… can that still read as expensive?
I think upcycling, to me, represents not always needing to buy something new to make it luxurious. Luxury is the way something lasts, and it’s something that makes you appreciate what you have.
If upcycling can be a luxury concept, can it also be used in regular, or even underserved, communities to elevate the standard of living?
Oh yeah. Not to be a Pollyanna about it, but a big takeaway I had from this master class is that a lot of people already have what they need, you know? It’s about looking at your life in a different way. Sometimes I do feel like, in a social media society, wanting is the primary action. And I know we’re focused on fashion here, but to me, it’s beyond the fashion element. It goes so much further than clothes. It’s our lives. Can we look at them and say, “This stuff brings me joy. This stuff has memories. That’s why this is valuable, and why we should repair it or revamp it instead of just buying something new.” And also, asking, “Why am I looking outside myself to make me happy?”
When you’re editing a film or rewriting a script, does that count as upcycling?
I think all storytelling is a form of upcycling, right? There’s no such thing as a new story. It’s just a matter of new voices telling stories as old as time in a new way. Nobody’s reinventing the wheel, they’re just trying making it better. That’s what I do every day at work.
Can you upcycle an ex?
You can, but you’ve gotta be careful! I don’t know, to me, that sounds like trouble. But you know, my fiancé and I will have been together five years next month, So it’s interesting, the relationship we’re in now is not the one we’ve been in when we first got together. We’ve both experienced things in our lives that have helped us grow and become better versions of ourselves. But also, after a couple years, you know everything there is to know about the person, so you have to make your relationship new and fresh. Keep the spice and excitement, otherwise you get bored and look outside for something new—like what we were just talking about! Some of the best relationships are when both people evolve and grow, and therefore the relationships evolve and grow. You kind of have to. If you’re not upcycling a relationship, you can’t really have the best one possible.
After Hollywood, can you come be a relationships guru?
Oh, no way. That’s a tough gig, helping two people communicate with each other, and see something in each other they don’t know is there. I would never take on that job. It’s hard enough inside your own life, you know? But also, I’m a big believer that relationships should be hard. If you’re too comfortable, or something is too easy, then you’re not growing. I never want to be with a person that allows me to rest on my laurels. Sometimes people couple with those kind of folks because it doesn’t require anything from them. That is a decision one can make. You can go, “Look my life is hard enough, when I go home I don’t want to have to work on anything.” That’s a choice. But the choice I’ve made is, I don’t mind doing the work. Because I want to be the best partner I can be, and the best person I can be. And sometimes, that’s really hard. It should be! It’s worth it… Also, as you grow as a person, just with time, you have more experiences, so you learn more empathy. At least, that’s the hope.
There’s this stereotype that writers are too empathetic…
Well, sure. Also, my job is weird, because every day I have to ask, “Where are the characters coming from?” I literally have to see things from every perspective at work, so that bleeds into life. The thing is, if you’re going be a good [TV and film] writer, you can’t just write your opinion. You don’t have two people on camera, in the same room, believing the same thing. That’s so boring. Two people that are both [anti-choice], they’re just agreeing with each other. But if two people, one is pro-choice and the other is against it? That’s conflict. That’s a scene. That’s drama. But because my job is to look at things from every possible angle and find that drama? That makes me a little nutty sometimes.
That’s okay. I’m a little nutty all the time. I’ll prove it with our last question. It’s crucial that you answer this honestly.
How many times did you hit Harry Styles during James Corden’s Dodge Ball tournament?
No, listen, Harry Styles is actually a really good dodge ball player. That dude is skilled. He has great aim. And I will tell you, I really gunned for him. I really tried to get Harry Styles, but he is fast and those dodge balls are deceptively heavy. He would see me going for him and just swerve, so I couldn’t get it. I’m sorry! I’ll tell you what though, I hit James Corden. I got him really good. I don’t know if they’ll show it because it’s his show, but I think if Corden’s truly humble, and if he’s a real man, he’ll let it ride.