UPDATED: February 26, 2020, 3:45 p.m. ET —
Lena Waithe has released a statement regarding accusations that she stole the “Girls Room” idea from filmmaker Nina Lee. It reads:
“There has been an accusation floating around that I want to address. In 2019, I partnered with @Dove for their project #GirlsRoom. Prior to my joining the project, in 2017 a @Dove partner came up with the title and the concept from which my scripts were based. I was brought on to write the scripts and produce the content. I have never seen Nina Lee’s work nor would I ever steal another artist’s work. As a fellow creator myself, I can only imagine how she must be feeling and I look to #Dove to give us more clarity on the situation. Now that I’m aware of Nina Lee, I look forward to seeing her art.”
Writer, producer and actress Lena Waithe has made a name for herself in the entertainment industry with shows like “The Chi”, movies like “Queen and Slim” and an Emmy-winning episode of “Master of None”. Despite the successes, the 35-year-old creator has also had her fair share of controversies, and recently she’s being accused of taking the idea of a lesser known filmmaker.
On Friday, the video platform ATTN: tweeted a trailer for a new show created by Waithe called “Girls Room”. The show was announced back in May 2019 and it’s described as an anthology-style series that “will explore the pain and power of female adolescence as told through the eyes of an inter-connected group of girls,” according to Deadline.
Waithe is listed as the writer and creator for the show, and she also serves as a producer via her Hillman Grad Productions alongside ATTN:. Dove’s Self-Esteem Project for young women also serves as a partner. The show is apart of a line of upcoming scripted series produced by ATTN:, which is mostly known for its documentary-style short and mid-form content.
“I’ve admired Dove and its mission to educate young women through their Self-Esteem Project for a long time,” said Waithe in a statement. “Crafting a story that’s purposeful and relevant to our shared values was exciting to me on a deeply personal level. I want girls to watch this show and feel like they’re not alone.”
When the trailer was posted on Friday, a Twitter user listed as screenwriter Nina Lee tweeted, “this looks awful, yes I’m hating,” then went on to explain how she had a show called “The Girls Room” that’s eerily similar to Waithe’s project.
“This show was definitely a learning experience, thanks to everyone involved and to those who still believes in me,” she wrote in a tweet along with a poster of her version of “Girls Room.”
She further explained:
“I made a lot of mistakes when it came to this show. Mistakes I can still feel. And I wish I knew then what I know now. We were young and didn’t know what we had on our hands. But thanks everyone involved! I’ve written 4 shows since then so if you’re an investor holla at me. And I have 2 short films and three 125 page feature films. I have content for days — I’m upset but I’m not worried (I’m a little worried haha) but my day is going to come.”
Lee went on to say, “Even the way her show is colored is oddly similar, I have to laugh. Ours was fun as hell though cuz it was about the great drunk girls you meet the girls restroom. And it extended out to their lives and how tough and rewarding navigating through life in your 20s can be.”
As soon as Lee posted her tweets on Sunday, people started coming to her defense and questioning Waithe. “Lena Waithe really stole from another black creative, another black woman?? But she claims to be for the community,” one Twitter user wrote.
Some folks even noticed that the lead characters in Waithe’s show were named after the Little Rock Nine — the group of Black teenagers who first integrated a racially segregated Little Rock Central High in 1957. Folks were confused as to why the show would reference real-life trailblazers that seem to have nothing to do with the story.
“Lena Waithe’s work is literally a product of the afterlife of BLM,” one Twitter user wrote. “Like you named those characters after the Little Rock 9? Everything she creates is literally ‘tweet worthy’. It’s all so intentional that it’s scary. Her true audience, must be white folk who will share admiration.”
Soon, people started demanding that Lee be recognized for her work. “This is why protecting your artistic works through Trademarking and Copyrights is so important,” another Twitter user wrote. “I hope Lena Waithe and her team does what’s right and compensates @NinaSerafina whatever she feels like she deserves.”
Eventually, Lee expanded on what happened to her series, tweeting:
“On the last day of shooting, our DP was robbed. We lost most of our footage. We tried crowdfunding but it was unsuccessful, other things happened and the show we thought was going to change our lives, a show I wrote/created — became something painful for me to even talk about. So many industry people were watching us. I just knew someone was gonna reach out and help us or reach out to me about writing something else but nothing happened. My life sucked, I felt like a failure but I kept my faith and kept writing.”
Evidence of “The Girls Room” show from 2017 can be found on an Instagram page.
Waithe has yet to make a statement concerning Lee’s tweets or the stealing allegations.