Lena Waithe's trailblazing began the moment she walked on the red carpet at the MTV Movie & TV Awards. Wearing the face of Shirley Chisholm, a Black woman who pioneered in the political realm, the writer, actress, director, and activist proudly would later accept her Trailblazer Award in front of hundreds of her colleagues and fans.
Like the wordsmith she is, Waithe used the opportunity to spread love and encouragement to everyone watching at home, and all the trailblazers that came before her. Specifically, Waithe honoured the real life subjects of Paris Is Burning, a 1990 documentary directed by Jennie Livingston that celebrated the vibrant 80's ball culture of New York City. "I am only allowed to stand here because of other trailblazers," Waithe said. "Tonight I want to share this award with them."
Waithe said that although many of the documentary's most powerful figures and innovators are no longer with us (many were early casualties of the AIDS epidemic), she hopes to "give them the glory and the shine that they deserve."
She also urged the crowd to know the true origins of pop culture references like "read" and "shade", and to honour the legacies they left behind. "Every time someone says shade or talks about reading or just decides to serve face for no reason at all, look up to the sky and give thanks," Waithe urged the crowd. "They strutted through a brick wall so we didn’t have to."
Coincidentally, Paris Is Burning has recently re-entered pop culture in a huge way — it is the inspiration behind Ryan Murphy's latest show, Pose. Described as a "cult classic," the documentary illuminates the electrifying world of ball culture in Harlem, where performers competed and showed off their talents in dance, performance, and vogue. Both the FX show and the original documentary put the spotlight on marginalised LGBTQ+ persons of colour, and Pose made history for casting more transgender actors than any show before it.