“Master of None” delivers on diversity with its three-dimensional black lesbian character

On Friday, Netflix will premiere the new Aziz Ansari series Master of None, a comedy series from the Parks & Recreation star co-created by Alan Yang and executive produced by Parks creator Mike Schur. Based loosely on Aziz’s life as an actor living in New York City, the show follows Dev (Aziz), his parents (played by his real life mom and dad) and group of friends, including Denise, a stud lesbian played by out actor/writer/comic Lena Waithe

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Although Denise is only in a handful of episodes, she’s incredibly likable and a different kind of lesbian. She’s the kind of woman who hangs comfortably with the guys, dishing out helpful advice when it comes to women. In the third episode, “Hot Ticket,”she tries to clue Dev in to why a girl he asked out isn’t texting him as promised.

“So, she doesn’t like you—what’s the debate? I’m confused,” she offers, deadpan.

“Why so pessimistic?” Aziz asks.

“Dude, she ain’t text you in two days, she don’t want to go,” Denise says. “This is a very clear non-ambiguous situation.”

Later, when Aziz gets the brush-off and still wants to try to score a date with his love interest, Denise continues to deliver pearls of wisdom. 

“Look, I met this girl Michelle, right? Was not into her. So I gave her a few, like, busy excuses, then this happened.” Denise plays three voicemails from Michelle, aka Princess Love, inviting her to a haunted house, her niece’s slam poetry reading and towel shopping. “That’s why you don’t engage.” But later on, she tells Aziz, “She left me one more voicemail and I was like, ‘Alright.'”

Originally Master of None was casting for a black female best friend but did not specify Denise’s sexuality. When Lena, who is currently producing her own Chicago-based drama for Showtime, came in for the role, they wrote her character as someone closer to her real life persona.

“She’s the most interesting person in the world,” Mike Schur told us at TCA. “She’s the female equivalent of whatever that beer ad guy is. She told us all these stories about her life and what she’s really like. And after a while, Aziz and Alan were just like ‘Why shouldn’t she just be gay?’ These characters are all versions of who we really are in real life. So it was like a no brainer. We just switched it.”

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Master of None is a funny, forward-thinking modern comedy about love, family, friendships and relating, mostly through the eyes of characters rarely focused on in television. Besides Dev and Denise, another major character is Brian (Kelvin Yu), Dev’s Asian best friend, and episode two, “Parents,” has Dev and Brian’s parents flashing back to their lives before moving to the States to give their significantly more privileged sons a chance at better lives. Rarely are these scenarios so heartfelt, nuanced and without cringe-worthy stereotyping. 

The same goes for Denise’s sexuality. When she brings Dev to a work party to act as her wing man, they share this exchange: 

Denise: She’s straight, but lately I’ve been getting some serious vibes from her.

Dev: Ooh, vibes that she wants to become a lesbian?

Denise: No, vibes that she’s curious about having an adventure with Denise. It’s not about changing a woman’s sexuality, Dev. It’s about one night in heaven. Look, I provide a service. I can make a woman come more times in 20 minutes than she has in the last six months.

That night, Denise gives Carla her experience and Dev gets lucky with Nina, an eccentric restaurant critic played hilariously and expertly by Claire Danes. The next day, they recap their nights and when Dev wonders how two women can orgasm so much together, Denise says, “I don’t have time to explain lesbian shit to you.” 

Denise and Dev have a friendship unlike any we see on television, and that’s largely because Denise isn’t written to explicitly serve as some kind of token diversity tool. This is the kind of greatness we get when people of color are behind the stories and take direct inspiration from real life people who aren’t heterosexual and white. But on Master of None, even those characters (women Dev dates, other friends) have interesting flaws and personality quirks. (One, for examples, is a kleptomaniac who does South Park impressions.)

Master of None is yet another destined-to-be hit for Netflix, proving that streaming networks are truly the home for diverse casts and writing staffs, creating content we crave more of and, more than that, deserve. There are still so few black lesbian characters on television and more often than not, they are underdeveloped and underused. But not on Netflix. (See: Orange is the New Black, Sense8, and now, Master of None.)

All 10 episodes of Master of None will be available on Netflix Friday, November 6.