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Logan Browning fell in love with her Dear White People character, Samantha White, an activist at the predominantly white Winchester University, at the same time we did: during the blistering and tear-filled monologue Sam delivers about racism on campus at the end of the series premiere.
“That monologue was the reason I knew I wanted to do the show,” says the 28-year-old Atlanta native, who performed a version of the speech in her audition. “I was just very empowered to be able to sit there as this character and to just say how a group of people feel. I felt like a superhero.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How has your year been since Dear White People was dropped?
LOGAN BROWNING: Dear White People, even when I booked it, the name itself had so much behind it. It had so much excitement behind it. It had so much controversy behind it. Just to be part of this train that in-house we all knew was a meaningful and thoughtful piece of television before it even aired was really exciting. Then once it actually hit Netflix, I guess I’ve just been really proud to be a part of it. The aftermath of having people talk to me about everything that the show covers has been the newest experience — people of all backgrounds who may relate to something in the show, or the show taught them something, or they just really loved the characters.
When the teaser first came out, there was this ignorant backlash because of the title. As an actor on the show, what was it like seeing that happen?
We saw that teaser when the world did, and we saw the reactions as the world did. Honestly, we weren’t surprised. It’s why we all made Dear White People. It’s because there are people in the world who feel this awful way and we knew that our show was important. The great thing was that as soon as the crazy happened, the Netflix execs immediately sent us an email just telling us — because we hadn’t seen the show yet and we had no idea how this was cut together — “Hey, the show is great. We support you guys. We support the show. We’re not taking the show off or anything. Don’t mind any of these crazy people. Just live your lives.” It was just a very sweet thing they did.
To be honest, that controversy was probably one of the best things that could have happened to our show. Just that idea alone, it just brought people to the show. Sometimes I find myself watching these reviews from the alt-right, because I’m such a curious person. I love to see what they think of the show, even if it’s complete malarkey. But they’re watching the show! As humans, we’re sponges. Even if you watch something and you disagree with it, you can’t help but soak in some of the message. I think it’s responsible for people to watch it. If you’re gonna hate it, at least take the time to watch it and form an opinion.
Tessa Thompson originated this role in the movie. Did you feel any pressure when you accepted it?
Yeah, of course. I’ve admired Tessa for the past few years as I’ve watched her career blossom. I’ve noted the roles that she’s played because I’ve always thought, “Oh, I can see myself in the roles she’s playing.” It’s kind of why representation on so many different levels is important, because if I see someone who looks like me, I go, “Oh, this is kind of where I fit in the world, maybe.” When I saw her performance in the film and knew that I would be reprising that role, I was really nervous because she did an amazing job and a lot of her performance comes from how beautiful of a person she is. A lot of the charm of her Sam is just naturally embedded in Tessa. That was kind of terrifying for me because I realized I had to create my own Sam, but it was also kind of a relief to go, “I can’t be her. I’ve got be [my] own version of Sam.” I guess I was really comfortable once I addressed that because I had [creator Justin Simien]. Because I had him, I just felt really comfortable, and he’s really let me grow with Sam and also turn her into who I see her as.
What did you draw on specifically to make Sam your own?
Well, I definitely looked at all of the great activists just to get a lot of their energy. I would listen to a lot of Angela Davis speeches, a lot of Martin Luther King speeches. [I read] books about race, going further back way before civil rights, before slavery and researching ancient times and African civilizations. I was just trying to get this well-rounded idea of race because that is a lot of who Sam is — her racial identity versus her persona. That has been so interesting to really explore.
I think I just pulled from my experience just going through life and looking the way I look and maybe sometimes I’m in an environment that’s mostly white people, maybe I’m in an environment that’s very diverse, or maybe it’s mostly African Americans. I grew up in the South, so sometimes it can be very black or white, or black and white, and how I’m treated and perceived in either one of those situations is very noticeable [to me]. Whether I’m being treated with a special privilege because I’m light skinned, or whether I’m still being treated with a lack of human respect because I’m not light enough, or whether I’m being treated like I’m not black enough. It’s just this caught in the middle mindset and the idea that you’re one of the people who kind of can’t get to who you are as a person because you’re so stuck in the middle with your race. It’s kind of what I connected to with Sam.
Was there a specific episode that tapped into that in-between feeling?
To be honest, season 2. I really do think that in season 2, I explore a lot more of those nuances, because they were really important to me. I talked to Justin and Yvette [Lee Bowser], our showrunner, about it. It’s funny, I think some of the audience got the idea of her being stuck between worlds even more than I did [in season 1]. I think as a performer, I needed to feel it more as Sam. So even if you really understood it as an audience member, I didn’t feel like I had really explored that in her character as we do in season 2.
What else can we expect from season 2?
We just wrapped, so clearly I can’t stop talking about it. It’s like when you’re in a new relationship and the person won’t shut up about [it]. To me, season 2, even reading it on the page, feels like a completely new show for me. It doesn’t feel like the same piece of work. It doesn’t feel like, “We’re just going to keep you on this train.” It’s like, “Nah, you know what? You guys liked this, let’s take it to the next level.” It’s definitely exploring the aftermath emotionally of every character, which I think is really important because, if you want to kind of blur the lines and compare it to our present-day circumstances, there’s so many headlines and so many insane things going on. I don’t know if people are really checking in with each other on how they feel about all of these crazy things. We all talk about them, sure, but this is all trauma. We have to acknowledge that everything that’s going on right now is some serious trauma and it’s going to have some serious effects on us. I think that’s kind of what season 2 is about: What are the effects of these kinds of things, especially on young people? Each episode feels even more like a little mini-movie because it’s not like some new event happens. It’s just what are we dealing with already.
Do you feel this helping you, as Logan, process everything that’s being thrown at us as black people?
Yeah, 100 percent. Even before Dear White People, I thought I knew what it meant, for me, to be light-skinned and what my light-skinned privilege might be. I thought I understood things like that. After season 1, I quickly realized that my idea of my privilege was even limited. As we’ve gone on in season 2, the crazy part is I’ve realized that black is beyond me. Because I am black, I just go, “This is my experience. This is the black experience,” but my mind is now is like, “Wow, we’re so multi-faceted.” There are so many different versions of what we experience, and that’s why it’s fun being on this show, cause you kind of get to be part of that exploration of these different nuances.
Apart from Dear White People season 2, is there anything else you’re excited for career-wise in 2018?
I’m definitely doing film in 2018, which is something I’m really excited about. I spent my last hiatus going to England to study Shakespeare, which was a lot of fun, but I missed out on a hiatus to do film. So, this year from January to September, before we would start filming if there’s another season for Dear White People, I’ll be doing film. Because none of my deals are signed I can’t really talk about it, but I am really excited!
Dear White People season 1 is available to stream on Netlfix.