Lena Waithe Nicole Friday

Lena Waithe is all about helping emerging artists get connected to like-minded individuals in the entertainment industry. So it makes perfect sense that the American Black Film Festival, which is dedicated to the exact same mission, would choose her to be its 2023 ambassador.

“I just always love ABFF. I think a lot of us feel like it’s a place where we get to feel seen and heard, and it’s just a place that really highlights us and celebrates us,” Waithe told MovieMaker. “So for me to be asked to be ambassador, it’s just such a huge honor and I’m super excited. I think it’s going to be such a phenomenal year.”

“Lena is a force to be reckoned with,” said festival producer Nicole Friday, who runs ABFF with her husband, Jeff Friday, who founded the festival in 1997. “She’s someone that gives opportunities to emerging artists and emerging creators, which is what our platform has always been about. So it was really a no-brainer.”

Running from June 14-25 in Miami Beach, the festival — one of our 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee — recognizes Black talent in the film and television industry and facilitates new connections between artists.

Here’s What Lena Waithe Will Do As the 2023 ABFF Ambassador

As this year’s ABFF ambassador, Waithe will delight festival attendees with a one-on-one conversation with festival producer Nicole Friday about her impressive career trajectory called The Lena Waithe Effect.

“I’m going to flow with it and just sort of speak from the heart. And that’s what I always try to do,” Waithe said. “I’m really just an artist that’s still growing and learning and I’m really grateful for the loyalty, the support.”

Waithe was previously honored with the Industry Renaissance Award — which recognizes creators whose work in film and television has helped to change perceptions of people of color in the entertainment industry — at the ABFF Honors awards show.

Lena Waithe on Her Work With Hillman Grad

Her work to support underrepresented artists through the production company she founded, Hillman Grad Productions, dovetails closely with ABFF’s mission of spotlighting film and television projects created by Black artists.

Also Read: Indeed and Lena Waithe’s Hillman Grad Productions Extend Rising Voices BIPOC Filmmaker Initiative

“I think what ABFF is also trying to do is to highlight voices we don’t yet know, but will hopefully be loud voices in our industry in the long run. I think that’s sort of our job — to introduce people to folks that they may not be familiar with yet, but we think they should know,” Waithe said.

“We have a foundation Hillman Grant Foundation where we have mentees and we’re sort of for acting, television writing, and on the executive track, and our mission is to help feed people into our industry that otherwise feel left out and feel like they don’t belong, or feel like they won’t ever have an opportunity to be a part of this business. And we really want to discourage that thinking. We feel like this business is for all of us, and we know that it’s our job to help make it more accessible. And so I think that’s what the Fridays have been doing as well — making sure people feel included and are not feeling excluded.”

Waithe won an Emmy award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series in 2017 for the Thanksgiving episode of Netflix’s Master of None alongside Aziz Ansari. She has produced several projects via Hillman Grad, including the Sundance-selected drama A Thousand and One starring Teyana Taylor; the Showtime series The Chi, which Waithe created and executive produced; Queen & Slim starring Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith; the Netflix film Beauty; her semi-autobiographical BET series Twenties; the Disney+ series Change Can Dunk; the HBO documentary Being Mary Tyler Moore, and an upcoming Sammy Davis Jr. biopic.

Waithe is also an accomplished actress, having acted in her own projects like Twenties, The Chi, and Master of None, as well as Westworld, Dear White People, This Is Us, Big Mouth, and Ready Player One.

Nicole Friday’s advice for industry newcomers attending this year’s festival is to come with a plan of action.

“I always tell people when you come to the festival, the most important thing is to ask questions, to network. Don’t just come and be — experience,” Friday said. “It’s really important to go back to wherever it is you’re going and do the work. Have a vision, have a reason why are you coming there. Don’t just come to hang out — come for a reason, so that you can walk away with the resources that you came there for.”

Main image: Lena Waithe, left, and ABFF producer Nicole Friday. Courtesy of ABFF.