Lena Waithe has become a well-known advocate of LGBTQ+ rights in the past year—remember when she wore a pride flag as a cape to the Met Gala? On Monday, the 34-year-old Master of None actress, writer, and producer received the well-deserved Trailblazer Award at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards. A black lesbian woman solo on stage? That’s a big deal.
To accept the award, Waithe didn’t deliver some cliché speech about her youth and the people who inspire her. Instead, she honored the queer activists who’ve fought for civil rights before her, citing the beloved 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, which chronicles the lives of the queer and transgender performers living in Harlem who rewrote the rules of the “ball” scene, where they performed. You can watch the full movie, which paved the way for shows like Pose, Queer Eye, and RuPaul’s Drag Race, here:
“I was so elated when I heard I was gonna get the Trailblazer Award that I thought to look up what the word actually means. According to the dictionary, it means to be a pioneer or an innovator, and I’m extremely grateful that you guys see me in that light. But, I believe that the only reason why I’m even allowed to stand here is because of a few other trailblazers that some of you might not be aware of,” Waithe said, moving on to call out key, real-life characters from the movie like Pepper LaBeija, then dedicating her award to them.
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“I want to do what we as a society should have done a long time ago and that’s give them the glory and the shine they deserve. A lot of people featured in this film are no longer with us, but their legacy will never die…Please look up to the sky and give thanks because we owe them a huge debt of gratitude. They strutted through a brick wall so we wouldn’t have to.”
Well said, Lena.