In Lena Waithe’s Twenties, which premiered earlier this year on BET, Jonica “Jojo” Gibbs plays Hattie, an aspiring TV writer who lands a plum job working for Ida B. (Sophina Brown), one of the most successful Black female showrunners in Hollywood. The breezy, uplifting series follows Hattie as she navigates work, how to be a good daughter while also striking out on her own, and hanging out with her best friends, Nia (Gabrielle Graham) and Marie (Christina Elmore). But in its quiet way, with Hattie, a Black masculine-of-center queer woman at its heart, the series is boundary-pushing.
“In terms of representation, I think it’s important for any demographic to be able to see themselves on television and to be able to feel some type of normalcy in what they feel,” Gibbs, who is out, says on Inside With the Advocate. “As a kid, I never saw gay people on TV, so what I was dealing with internally, I didn’t know. I felt like I couldn’t tell anybody, because who else can relate?”
“Having Hattie on TV as a masculine-presenting queer person — female — I think it’s revolutionary,” Gibbs adds. “And it’s necessary. People need to see people in their uniqueness and their comfortable space, and someone who’s confident in being themselves.”
Hattie is loosely based on Waithe, the first Black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing and who is now the mega-producer and creator behind shows including Twenties and The Chi. Gibbs met Waithe while fundraising for a project that Waithe donated to via crowdfunding. Fast-forward to Gibbs starring in Waithe’s hilarious breakdown of Hollywood that is also an ode to Classical Hollywood cinema with its sweeping crane shots and swelling orchestral music. The effect of the nods to old Hollywood juxtaposed with Hattie’s increased opportunities at her job and becoming a mentee to Ida B. is that Waithe reclaims some of the narratives of Hollywood's success from which Black people were shut out by white studio heads.
As for the current moment of a pandemic combined with a reckoning around systemic racism and police brutality against Black people, Gibbs says the way she deals with it is through “ebbs and flows.”
“For me, I have just really been trying to create space for myself to have a feeling of peace. So if that means logging off of Instagram for a little while and just reading a book, sometimes that’s therapeutic for me,” Gibbs says. “I have gone to the protests out in Hollywood and participated. That was overwhelmingly encouraging. But there’s so much more that needs to be done. A lot of things have to be changed in order for there to be significant change in this country.”
“For the first time in history, thankfully, the progression to the dismantling of systematic racism is being exposed,” she adds. “It’s necessary to see these things and for these systems to be exposed. However, it is draining.”
Twenties is available to view on BET. But at the moment, it has yet to be picked up for a deserved second season.
As for the first season, and the visibility of a Black queer woman lead, Gibbs says she hopes people see Hattie’s strength.
“I hope that’s what they take away from that character mostly is that regardless of her sexuality … that she’s confident in being uniquely herself and maneuvering through spaces transparently, which takes so much courage,” she says.
Watch other episodes of Inside With the Advocate, which features an array of virtual stories with LGBTQ+ artists, trailblazers, and allies including Rosie O'Donnell, Emily Hampshire, Harvey Guillén, Ross Mathews, Kalen Allen, Sherry Cola, Fortune Feimster, Brandy Norwood, Bruce Richman, Tonatiuh, Josh Thomas, Ser Anzoategui, the Indigo Girls, Sara Benincasa, Dustin Lance Black, Lena Hall, Alphonso David, and Mary Lambert.