Entertainer Exclusive Part 1: Logan Browning Gets Candid About Netflix Series ‘Dear White People’
Her beauty is luminescent, her conviction fierce. It’s a potent combination and why actress Logan Browning’s portrayal of student activist Sam White in the Netflix hit series Dear White People has struck a chord with younger audiences. The series, based off the 2014 movie of the same name, also created by Justin Simien, seems custom made to address the uproarious intersection where President Donald Trump’s politics and Black Lives Matter collide. More importantly, beyond its pop culture relevance, is the show’s ability to humanize a people and their collective point-of-view to a larger population of viewers.
Logan plays a biracial Ivy League university student, Sam White, host of a popular, albeit controversial, campus radio show titled, Dear White People. Her character’s radio show within a television show is a platform for Sam’s grievances, her bottomless questions, and the racial and cultural issues that continue to surface on ethnically diverse college campuses around the world. It also serves as the show’s anchor point, introducing each episode’s message and plotline. And if you think the first season was binge-worthy, you haven’t seen anything yet!
We discuss the second season of Dear White People, streaming May 4th on Netflix, we segue from her thoughts on acting and developing the character of Sam to social and political activism, the emotional triggers behind race and color, and some of the most pressing issues that our younger generations face in the age of social media and our relentless news cycle.
It becomes clear half way through our conversation that actress Logan Browning shares the values and concerns of her television alter ego, Sam White, but with a graceful confidence and ease of spirit that continues to allude Sam in the show’s second season.
AK: Typically, when I’m researching an actor, there’s a clear distinction between them and their character. With you, the unique challenge I faced is that I couldn’t clearly discern where your character, Sam White, ends and you begin.
Logan Browning: That’s an interesting observation. During season one, I was much further away from who Sam is. A lot of my portrayal of Sam was coming from a place of discovery and nervousness at taking on this role that Tessa Thompson originally played (in the 2014 movie, “Dear White People”). In season two, part of me becoming comfortable with Sam, was to stop fighting the parts of her that I thought were so different from me, when really they’re not. There are similarities between the two of us. With most characters I’ve played, I find myself pushing back on any similarities because I don’t want people to think I’m not playing a character. I find joy in bringing someone to life who’s very different from me. But part of why I ended up getting the role of Sam is because I do fall into who she is very easily. Though her perspective on life is different from mine.
AK: How so?
Logan Browning: In terms of how she responds to the world, and some of her reasoning within her debates. I do believe that the longer you play a character, they naturally bleed into your real life. I’m not surprised that some of who Sam is may show up in who I am. I find myself saying some of the same quips that she does in my responses to things. I also find myself using what she says, like, “This has to be right, because Sam said it!”
AK: Has she brought out the activist in you?
Logan Browning: It’s made me more comfortable in being an activist. I’ve always been drawn to giving a voice and a face to people who aren’t seen or heard. I feel like that’s a part of what comes with being an entertainer and being in the public eye. When people say that actors and musicians shouldn’t be policy adjacent, I think that perspective is ridiculous. They’re put in this position where they are in the public eye and people listen, so it makes sense that these two things go hand in hand. Because people are looking to my character, Sam, for that, they naturally look to me. It would be a huge disappointment to people if they saw that I was not speaking out on certain issues.
AK: Do you feel compelled to speak out because of the weight Dear White People holds with its audience?
Logan Browning: If you scroll through my Twitter, I’ve been vocal all the way back. You can even dig up my MySpace (laughs), way before this show, and you’ll see! I watched the film, Dear White People (2014), when it came out. I saw myself in Sam when I watched the film. Did seeing the character of Sam in the film influence me? Maybe it did. Playing Sam only aides in this burning desire I have to speak out. But I don’t feel compelled by it.
AK: You feel empowered by it…
Logan Browning: Yeah, I feel empowered by it, and I feel that being on a show like Dear White People makes me want to use my voice. I’m inspired by the people I’m surrounded by. I’m surrounded by so many young, influential artists who have great talent and great passion, and a desire to leave a mark that goes beyond their artistry. It’s a new kind of energy in comparison to when I first started acting at the age of fourteen.
AK: What are some of the hot topics you guys discuss on set when you’re all off camera?
Logan Browning: On set, honestly? We goof off. If you’re a person who knows what it’s like to live a life of trauma or a life of less than and difficulty, then you know that the best therapy is laughter. And that’s what we do, we laugh a lot. It’s a part of our culture. Black people together just have a good time. When you get black people together, they don’t want to have a depressing time. Yes, heavy conversations can happen, and they do happen a lot. Sometimes they’ll happen in our group texts or once an issue comes up. More serious conversations will happen when people ask us about the show and we talk about those topics with other people. I may read something that one of my castmates said in an interview, and then I’ll talk to them about it and say, “Hey, I didn’t know you were affected in that way. Tell me about it…”
AK: Can you give me an example of an issue that’s come up?
Logan Browning: I’ve always felt I understood and was aware of my privilege as a light skinned person in this world, and in my industry. I was always aware of it, but I’ve realized that I was still missing the mark until I started to see some of what my fellow actors have said in interviews. I’ve realized that there’s a larger part of their experience than I was understanding. I want to make sure I’m not just being an ally to the black community, but also addressing these more specific issues that are even more nuanced than I’ve personally experienced.
AK: Let’s talk about the nuance of color within the black community. Being that you are light skinned and with green eyes, has there ever been a time in your life when you wished to have darker skin and dark eyes to fit in socially? Were there ever social consequences associated with your appearance?
Logan Browning: I’ve been grateful to have the parents that I had growing up, and I’ve never had any kind of self-loathing in terms of wishing to be something else. But I definitely grew up in a place where I wished people treated me the way I wanted them to. If they were treating me like I didn’t fit in, then I just wished to be treated differently, but I never wished I looked different.
AK: Were you treated as something “other”?
Logan Browning: In both ways, I was. I’m on a spectrum. From white people I was treated a certain way, sometimes good and sometimes bad. Same for the African American community. I was accepted sometimes, and sometimes I wasn’t. It’s a spectrum that I exist on. It’s part of my experience, just kind of being stuck in the middle. As you get older it changes from wishing they would treat you differently to just trying to understand them, and not worrying as much about fitting in. You realize the reason you’re not fitting in is because you have a privilege that they don’t have. You have to understand their experience.
AK: Your character Sam has mixed emotions about having a Caucasian father, and yet, she falls for a white guy on campus who has a similar energy to her father. She has mixed emotions towards both of those men in her life, and it’s an interesting parallel.
Logan Browning: Absolutely. She feels so comfortable with Gabe because he reminds her of what she has been around her whole life. She’s been around a white male energy her whole life. In the same breath, she’s also been around African American male energy because of her mom and her mom’s family. Sam does feel that pull towards Gabe, possibly because of her dad. Yet, because she has also been exposed to the strength of a black man, she wants to be around that as well. It’s difficult for her to try to navigate that. Deeper than what Sam’s dad looks like, if you look at the characters of both Reggie and Gabe (both love interests), they both have an intelligence that is mirrored in her dad. The reason she leans more towards Gabe than Reggie is because Gabe challenges her like her dad challenged her.
AK: What are your personal rules about dating your co-stars? Yay or nay?…
Click here to read Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Logan Browning.
Season two of “Dear White People” is now available on Netflix.