Lena Waithe’s new comedy Twenties looks exactly what it sounds like: the time in your life when you are somewhat self-aware and are still making mistakes. The series follows Hattie, a masculine-presenting lesbian, and her two straight best friends Mari and Nia, as they navigate relationships, situationships, and the ups and downs of their own friendship.
Comedian and former substitute teacher Jonica “JoJo” Gibbs took on the role that’s loosely based on Waithe in hopes of Hattie shedding light on a different type of Black millennial storyline. The show, while marked by its comedic prowess, confronts the complexities of sexuality without making it the sole plot of the show. It delves deeper, into the challenges of adulting and what it means to have good friends to lean on when times get rough.
Gibbs spoke with HelloBeautiful about approaching the character Hattie, defining her unique personality, and her character’s unique style, which is defined by oversized graphic tees featuring Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston and other iconic musicians.
Sade Spence: What do you admire most about Hattie?
Jonica “JoJo” Gibbs: What I most admire about Hattie is her confidence and ability to be uniquely her. She doesn’t apologize for it. She’s pretty proud, ya know. I appreciate that. She’s steadfast in what she believes and also… she listens, and adapts, and tries, but at the same time, she’s like I’m going to do it my way.
SS: Why was it important to showcase Hattie as a masculine-presenting lesbian?
JG: In terms of moves Queen Latifah definitely did an incredible job as Cleo [in Set It Off]. She was my first representation of a black masculine-presenting lesbian. I saw it on TV, not in theaters because my momma wasn’t going to take me to see it in theaters… *laughs*
In terms of TV, Hattie is unique. She’s not necessarily hard, that’s her style. She has that blend .. I think that it’s dope. It’s been a long time coming. It’s a different perspective and a different visualization of that particular demographic.
SS: You wear some iconic graphic tees in the show. Did you have any input? How closely did you work with the stylist?
JG: Derica Cole Washington is the stylist. She did episodes 2 through 8. She did an incredible job. I had no input at all. I’m sure Lena [Waithe] had input, as well, because she is very involved and wanted to make sure the character was true to her. Derica did an incredible job creating a look for Hattie. I loved showing up to set with it already ready. It was dope.
HB: How does Hattie’s style reflect her character?
JG: It reflects that she is abstract in a lot of ways. In her mind and in her thinking. She’s imaginative and artistic. Her stuff is very funky and colorful. So she wears things in social settings that may not be appropriate to some people, however, she does it confidently and she’s so fly with it that it — all at the same time, especially with her particular personality. I also think the clothes go well with the musical stylization of the show as well. There are so many different styles that they use. Hattie’s shirts do odes back to Whitney Houston, Anita Baker, Patti LaBelle, so you definitely hear that in the composition.
SS: How closely have you worked with Lena? What was your approach to the character? It can be daunting to play a character based on someone who is alive.
JG: Yeah! You know, it could be, but Lena was gracious enough to give me the autonomy to really make the character who I wanted. I hit her up and was like “If you wanna get up. And I can study you?” And she was like, “Do your thing, make this character yours. I know you can do it. I know you’re going to do a great job.” So that was great to get that approval off-hand to really look at the script and see what I feel. I was down to do the whole Jamie Foxx type thing. I do your walk, I do your talk, I do your stance, and she was like “Don’t even worry about that.”
SS: Lena gave you the space to make the character your own, was there anybody or any character you looked to when shaping Hattie, aside from Lena?
JG: My personality and nuances are definitely [there] … little quirky things. My stepdad is very funny, very loud. He is somebody that I definitely looked to. In terms of going into the character… I love the show Martin and there were times I really wanted to create a character like Martin.. that you want to watch and do [even though] he gets on your nerves. And he is rude, and he is loud, and he gets on your nerves, but he be telling the truth. But funny! Women don’t get to [do that] without being painted as aggressive. Hattie has that balance of sweet, but so blunt. I hope that people will receive her like how I received Martin. Sometimes Martin just ain’t shit, but he’s so funny, so it don’t matter.
SS: How do you hope this show will speak to audiences?
JG: I hope that people really take in this character. Ive already seen ppl say, “I wish Hattie was my friend. Or Hattie’s me, but not gay.” Yeah, in terms of like, acceptance of people, it’s deeper than sexuality. It’s about what this persons intentions are, what their personality is like, are they negative or positive, are they developing, how are they adding to your life? That’s what people need to invest in more — And, just minding your business! Living your life to the fullest. You know what I’m saying. Keeping your eyes in your lane. Live for yourself, I hope is one of the deeper messages they take from it. But also, just laugh.
SS: TWENTIES reminds me of, not that they’re the same, but the show Insecure. Have you come across any comparisons to any shows?
JG: The show has been compared to several. I think we as a culture, especially Black culture, I hope we get to the place where that’s not the case and just like white shows, we are allowed to have multiple shows of ensembles of Black women trying to figure life out and it’s not a big deal. When you dive deeper into the stylization of the show and you can see the differentiation between them. I think that, the black experience, in a lot of regards, is the same for a lot of people. Just like talking about the white experience, we talk about the Black experience, I’m sure there are times the storylines look like they align, but we need to be given the space to create in the same regard.
But I get it. The shows we are compared to, I absolutely love them. I just think that there are some differences, but at the same time, shoot, if we can have the same success as these shows… if we’re in the same conversation as Insecure, Girlfriends, Living Single, then please I will be more than happy. These shows are iconic. Would love to be grouped in with these shows, but given the space to be different.
BEAUTIES: Catch ‘TWENTIES’ on BET Wednesdays, 10/9c