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Mar 22 2018
Out Writer And Actor Lena Waithe Covers VANITY FAIR Comments (0)

DY4YuGSX0AAoMjO.jpg-large(Image by Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair)

Having worked in magazine publishing for, well, a career's worth of time, and having once been addicted to magazines, I gasped when I saw that Lena Waithe had scored the new cover of Vanity Fair ...

Choosinga black lesbian famed for a critically acclaimed but ratings-challenged show (Master of None — best show on TV, bar none) marks a seismic shift in cover selection under new editor Radhika Jones. No way would Graydon Carter have made this choice; and I'm not totally faulting him, it's just that when you're the EIC and you make radical decisions, you find out if your gambit worked within weeks as sales reports trickle in.

When I edited Popstar!, a teen mag I created that was not exactly Vanity Fair, my second 51qPz-+kBiL._SX360_BO1 204 203 200_issue featured Tatyana Ali as the cover girl. “Daydreamin'” was one of the year's biggest pop hits and she seemed right for a teen mag to me — beautiful, famous, currently successful. I met her for lunch at the Parker Meridien and did a proper interview, as if this were for the cover of Seventeen (and not Twelve).

When it was time to unveil the cover to the sales force — which mostly worked on selling softcore porn like Juggs — in Cranford, New Jersey, they were visibly aghast and immediately objected to having a black person on the cover, citing other magazines whose issues had sunk with a POC front-and-center. See, the only teen mags with black people on the cover were teen mags for black people.

And it did tank.

I don't believe it was only because little white girls in 1998 were not as free to express, via a few bucks, adulation for a young woman of color; my category was dominated by magazines featuring cute boys, not cute girls, so I was kind of blurring the linesbetween lifestyle and entertainment. But I'll never forget how adamant they were about race being an issue.

Twenty years later, I'm sure race still is a consideration, as evidenced by the relative lack of black cover stars. It's gotten better, but it's not done without thought. On top of race, you have her sexual orientation — she's not a huge star who came out or who flirted with bisexuality. You have her looks — I think she's beautiful as is, but the previous cover was Jennifer Lawrence, more typical of the look Vanity Fair goes for.

Make no mistake, it's a big deal.

The profile on Waithe aggressively begins with:

If you haven’t heard of Lena Waithe, check yourself for a pulse.

The intro to the interview begins:

Slowly, the bigger world begins to see you. We see you, Lena Waithe. We see you.

And I see you, too, Vanity Fair. For the first time in a while.

On top of a great and risky cover, the profile is juicy and informative.

Here's Waithe on winning an Emmy, making her the first black woman to do so for comedy writing:

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

From a speech she recently gave:

Being born a gay Black female is not a revolutionary act. Being proud to be a gay Black female is.

Lena is a star. It's just amazing to see her being recognized on an ever-widening level.