Cannes Lions: Lena Waithe Says Diversity Is About More Than Just Screen Time

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Lena Waithe

"During the times of the minstrel shows, black people were seeing a version of themselves. We have to go beyond 'I want to see myself,'" said the Emmy winner.

Much of the talk around Cannes Lions has focused on diversity, so with the first female black Emmy winner on hand, Lena Waithe was set to talk about the two hottest points all week. She took to the stage to warn that the rush to diversity cannot be just about putting people of color onscreen.

"We have to be able to see ourselves, but not just see ourselves, because during the times of the minstrel shows, black people were seeing a version of themselves," she said. "We have to go beyond 'I want to see myself.'"

Stories have to be of substance, whether it be drama, trauma or emotional wounds, she said, citing the films Fruitvale Station and Get Out, and Donald Glover's Atlanta. "It's really our work as artists to write something that is not self-serving but to write something that feels vulnerable and brutally honest," she said. Vintage Spike Lee films were another example, with the director able to hold a mirror up to society and not be afraid to have a cracked reflection.

Waithe is also a brand ambassador and talent mentor for AT&T and was onstage with senior vp advertising Valerie Vargas. Cannes Lions is a marketing conference meant to be about "creativity," but this week's conversation has centered around diversity in panel after panel, with many conference attendees saying they hope it doesn't amount to just talk.

"It's not a moment; it's a movement," said Vargas. "We as brands have an opportunity to engage and invest, starting from the very basis of who your employees are and then extending into who your community is. Identify what is important and invest, support it, give voices to the right places. The onus sits on us and the dollars we give."

"At some point we need to stop having a version of this conversation," said Waithe. "It's not just about vulnerability. It's about accountability."