“I had a story pitch for the visibility project.”
When an email from writer, producer, creator, Lena Waithe popped up in my inbox with the subject line: “Story Idea” my immediate reaction was confusion. Head tilted slightly to the left with what I’m sure was the perfect blend of confusion and skepticism on my face, I opened the email, anxiously. I’m an introvert so I’m always anxious with strangers, but this was different. I also happened to be a huge fan of this particular “stranger.”
After I read the email I put my phone down. “OK. But why?” It’s a phrase my crew and I use in jest, with the hint of a New Orleans accent for dramatic effect – more often serving as commentary than the indication of any actual lack of understanding. This time though, the skepticism was real. I wasn’t sure why Waithe was pitching anything to me, of all the people she knows. (#LenaKnowsEm) After three reads and some rallied certitude I responded, “Consider it done.”
Twenties, which is loosely biographical and the most personal work Waithe has penned, is what it sounds like: a show about being in your twenties, fumbling through life, not having all of the answers yet and figuring things out as you go.
Waithe, co-creator of the hit web series, Hello Cupid, writer of the insanely famous “Shit Black Girls Say,” producer of the upcoming feature film Dear White People, staff writer on the long-running Fox hit Bones, wrote the pilot for Twenties back in 2012. While it could have and likely would have been a hugely successful web series (based on initial viewer feedback) the goal for Twenties was always television.
If the pilot doesn’t tell you enough about who Waithe is and how she and her crew operate, the fact that they chose to take matters into their own hands and film a pilot presentation instead of just sending the script out and hoping for the best definitely should.
“My crew likes to think outside the box,” said Waithe. “That’s why we decided to do a pilot presentation, put it online and see if there was an audience for a show like TWENTIES and pretty soon we started to see there was. And lucky for us so did a cable network.”
It’s true. With the backing and support of Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit, Waithe will be shooting the full pilot for Twenties with a cable network this fall. We had the opportunity to read the full script for the pilot and the general consensus among The ViP staff is that not only is it brilliant but we also need this show on television yesterday!
The pilot presentation is available now in case you haven’t already seen it. Broken up into four parts, Waithe and director, Justin Simien (yes, that Justin Simien from Dear White People), who also served as their own casting directors, shot four key parts of the pilot, packaged it and presented it. The general feedback of the presentation, which is already being compared to Girls, Sex in the City, and Girlfriends, is that it’s not only relatable but also a breath of fresh air.
“That’s something people say a lot when they talk to me about the show and honestly, that’s a huge compliment,” said Waithe. “Because as a writer that’s what I want; I want audiences to be able to see themselves in the characters and I want it to feel like something they haven’t seen before.”
The four parts provide a pretty well rounded picture of the show and at the same time leave so much tea left to be spilled. By the time I got to the end of the script, eyes wide, I commenced a discussion in our team’s group message that started with, “GIRL! Please tell me y’all have read the script already!”
The Girls comparison, while flattering, isn’t entirely accurate. There aren’t many similarities between the two shows other than the surface characteristics: a girl-group of friends in their twenties, on a show created by a writer named Lena. The truth is Twenties is better. Even though the series, Girlfriends is still one of my favorites and was ground-breaking in a lot of ways, Twenties is more relatable, which is why The ViP staff members assigned to this particular project spent time trying to figure out who’s who in the cast of Twenties.
One of Hattie’s first lines about her new obsession with a Taylor Swift song jeopardizing her gangster is what hooked me, Courtney Sauls’ performance as Hattie is why I kept watching, the way too realistic dynamics of the almost-too-close and very much in-sync friendship of Hattie, Marie, and Nia echoed our own experiences, and Lena Waithe’s brilliance as a writer is why I’ll be here for whatever she pens, especially Twenties.
The chemistry between the three leads makes it incredibly difficult to believe they weren’t already best friends before filming. I’m forced to believe Sauls when she tells me she did not meet either of her two co-stars before the audition process for Twenties. And likewise Featherson (Marie), when she declares she had only met Jervier (Nia) four months before auditioning for the pilot presentation. There’s agreement from Jervier when Featherson claims the two of them became instant friends, which isn’t hard to believe.
We had the opportunity to sit down with the three stars of Twenties and pick their brains, instigate discussions on pop culture, watch them interact, and listen to them spill tea and debate in much the same way siblings do. You know, enthusiastically, vibrantly, intensely, respectfully, and once they realize everyone can’t make their point at the same time, with the look that says, “I’m going to let you finish, but I disagree.”
These ladies love to talk. They love talking to each other and they love talking about each other. Whether in seriousness or jest their conversations about the others are always earnest, honest, full of genuineness and authenticity – the kind of love that isn’t supposed to exist in Hollywood, especially in a world where supply is greater than demand.
The three stars of Twenties are part of a larger conglomerate of young artists of color who have affectionately and appropriately dubbed themselves, The Resurgence. No longer are they simply waiting to see themselves represented and their stories told on screen. They are creating, writing, directing, producing and starring in the art and media they want to see. Perhaps most importantly of all, they are loving, encouraging, empowering, and uplifting each other in the process. That all three of them can be seen in Simien’s Dear White People and starring in Waithe’s Twenties is a prime example of this renaissance.
The Resurgence is an actual embodiment of The Visibility Project’s mission, to battle the burden and change the spotlight.
Over the next three days we’ll turn the spotlight on Ashley Blaine Featherson, Courtney Sauls and Nia Jervier as we showcase their talent and discuss the significance of their presence as actresses and women of color in Hollywood and mainstream and independent media.
Stay woke, folks. It’s going to be a great week.