Lena Waithe Calls out Will Smith, Denzel Washington for Not Doing More

by June 24, 2019

© Provided by Oath Inc. Lena Waithe attends the premiere of Ready Player One on March 19, 2018, in London. (Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls)

Lena Waithe accused two of the biggest movie stars around for failing to do all they can to get more black-led films made.

The writer/producer/actress behind the upcoming thriller Queen & Slim was speaking with New York Times reporter Kyle Buchanan about whether getting movies made by black directors into theaters will soon be easier.

Waithe, whose on-screen work includes episodes of Master of None and Dear White People, said her latest project, which she produced and wrote, would not have been possible without the success of Jordan Peele’s Get Out and the fact that Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight won the Oscar for Best Picture. The success of those movies, as well as box-office behemoth Black Panther, made studios pay attention to it.

“I think black people in this industry are making art that is so specific and unique and good that the studio heads have no choice but to throw money at us,” Waithe said. “They’re saying, ‘How can we support you and stand next to you?’ The tricky part is that they want to be allies and they want to be inclusive, but they also want to make money.”

Waithe lamented that the movie industry is “still trying to play catch up” when it comes to diversity, although she said black film is experiencing a renaissance.

“And don’t get me started on black financiers! How many of those do we have? I’m not [going to name] names because I know better, but there are some very big black movie stars out there, and they could pay for two or three or even five small independent movies to get made by black directors and black writers,” she said. “Let me give you two movies that are very important to the black community: Moonlight and 12 Years a Slave. Whose production company put those out?”

Buchanan acknowledged that it was Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B.

“Wasn’t Denzel [Washington]. Wasn’t Will Smith,” Waithe said. “You won’t catch me making $20 million a movie and not paying for at least four or five independent movies a year. I do give credit to [director and producer] Ava [DuVernay] for trying to build something that hasn’t been built before, but that’s a lot on Ava’s back.”

“I’m over here trying to build a community, and I don’t see other people doing it,” she said. “I really do feel like there’s a way for us to change the movie business from the inside out, but we’re all in our own silos doing our own thing.”

Forbes estimated that, as of July 2018, 10 months ahead of the release of his Disney blockbuster Aladdin, Smith had a net worth of $42 million. In 2017, the magazine estimated Washington had raked in more than $290 million before taxes since 2003, when its reporters began keeping count.

Yahoo Entertainment has reached out to Smith. A rep for Washington declined to comment.

Others weighed in on social media. Some cited the fact that actor Jason Mitchell was fired from the Showtime series The Chi last month after he was accused of harassment. Waithe, who created the series, didn’t fire Mitchell when the allegations first surfaced, although she now says she wishes she would’ve handled the situation differently.

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