Logan Browning, the actor, is probably the perfect person to play Samantha White the activist.
Samantha on one hand moves through her fictional world in Netflix’s Dear White People as a mixed girl with a radio platform, intent on calling out racism and injustice. And Logan Browning moves through her own world as a mixed woman with a television platform, intent on calling out racism and injustice. When Samantha tears up over fictionalized alt-right hate, Browning feels it all the same.
“If you have any real kind of empathy in your heart as I do as a person that wants this character to be real, it’ll hurt,” she tells me during a phone convo. “It really does.”
Dear White People creator Justin Simien’s film-to-television drama is bringing some of that hurt back with season two dropping on May 4th. And what began as a satirical tale about black students navigating a predominantly white, Winchester University—post-Donald Trump, alt-right-bullshit incorporated—is now very much the same pressure cooker of racial tensions. Sam’s back in the audio booth, ex. white boyfriend Gabe Mitchell is producing an “Am I Racist?” documentary, and white students are further on the attack against black student unions and the Dear White People dialogue.
In advance of its return, I took the time to chat with Logan Browning about Dear White People, and why Samantha continues to be an inspiration for her own true-to-life forms of activism.
VICE: Congrats on Netflix granting that season two, how does it feel to still be on a show that’s so relevant?
Logan Browning: It's an absolute blessing and it's so exciting. It continues to be this chance for me to be even more open-minded and to learn. I feel when we're filming and getting these topics it's something amazing. We get to dive different relationships, what's behind them, what they're discussing and what they're going through. But it’s really the promotion part of Dear White People that allows me to examine how I relate to a lot of these topics. Like what do I actually believe, and think, and how am I affected by the stories we're telling.
But how did working on this show affect you? Because as a black journalist, I sometimes get some occasional shit thrown at me. But when this show first came out, the vitriol by racists was on another level.
I mean in life, you’re going to get that negativity anyway, and you don’t go around expecting good to come from that. I feel like when you take the positive route and always know what you’re intentions are going in, it makes dealing with it easy. Our intentions for this show were was good. It’s not like we were going in to hurt anyone, and sure, maybe we were aiming to stir some feelings that may have been subdued, but it was always with good intent. When you’re aware of that, you don’t really worry about the negativity because you already know that none of that stuff is for you. It’s not the space you live in. So when we got bombarded with that, it didn’t even bother me. It just let me know that we were doing the right thing, because antagonizing voices want to tear down something that’s working. It’s just fuel in the knowledge that we were on the right path.
When you talk about fuel though, you’re pretty much playing a character that’s an activist, which I imagine you can draw a lot from in real life. The Alt-Right, Donald Trump, Kanye West, Starbucks. Do the lines ever blur between you and Samantha?
There are similarities between my character and I, simply because we’re aware of what’s happening around us and we speak up about it. I think the difference is in what we’re being bombarded with, because our platforms are similar while different at the same time. She has an actual radio show with the purpose of calling things out. I don’t have that, and can't proclaim myself a knower of all things having to do with race. Sure, I’ve been blessed to be on a show that tackles those issues, with a platform that asks questions. But I’m no expert in the matter. I just have opinions, experience, and I have the people around me that have their own experiences. The way we maneuver around it is different. I’m not seeking this out, it’s just the position I’ve been put in.
I asked about the blur, because there’s a moment in episode one when we see her vulnerable side when she comes across a few alt-right commentators. There’s a really believable hurt there. What are you drawing from in those moments?
It’s a raw emotion I experience through Sam. Yeah, I can experience something like that, but when I’m playing this character, I’m really committed. I’ll have an awful comment typed up on my phone that an alt-right person from the show said about her family, and father, and it’ll hurt. If you have any real kind of empathy in your heart, like I do as a person who wants this character to be real, it’ll hurt. It really does, because I know it’s happening in real life. It’s sad when someone like Samantha, who has been so active on campus, is trying so hard that she almost forgets she’s going to be a target.
When it’s that close to home, you can only do so much to keep your guard up. She’s human, and that’s what this season is all about. You can pretend, but this stuff plants some deep seeds, and you don’t know where any of it is going to end. Because nobody knows if racism will ever end and that’s exhausting.
One theme that seems consistent in this new season, is that everyone is dealing with a demon. We’re so used to the image of the strong activist. But from your viewpoint, why are you guys so intent on showing that vulnerability?
Everyone has a platform these days, you just need a couple thousand followers, some pics on Instagram and you’re good. I’m sure you have a platform. People who have them with important voices and use them for the greater good are often put into positions where they’re under fire. We have a ton of amazing young activists who are in the public eye right now and it can be equally forgotten that they’re also human. We put so much pressure on them. Generation Z aren’t just the future, they’re the now. It used to be, "I believe the children are the future", no, actually the children are going to save the world right now.
Think about all the young activists from the Parkland shooting, or even me, who some would consider young. Sure, I lived a little bit of life, found a school, and I live on my own, but I’m not out there taking tests and falling into high school love, while dealing with another young black person being shot. This is a whole new ballgame, and we really really need to stay aware of everyone’s humanity.
Has your view of activism changed as a result of Dear White People ?
In a way. I’m always wondering what else I could be doing. It never feels enough to just use my platform. I’m happy to give a voice to people who may not be heard half as much, but I’m always wondering what else I could be doing since my position almost requires me to do more. And I want to do more. I don’t want to look up and think, wow, I had a moment to really be a part of changing the world and I didn’t live up to it. I’m just trying to figure out how to be a good natured assistant. But I’m also hesitant, because I don’t want to be so outspoken about issues that I may not be well versed in, only to be a detriment to the cause. I’m very cautious of that.
So apart from the character you play on his show, this is largely a responsibility for you?
Absolutely. It's a responsibility, but it's one that I like and want.
One trait about Dear White People I want to comment on, is the fact that it doesn’t pander to me that much. There are things I can’t relate to. There’s also a college bougieness. But when it gets down to the issues of discrimination, there’s a kinship there.
Absolutely. There's a lot of sisterhood going forward as well which is really great in terms of what's going on around us right now with the #metoo movement and women empowerment being such a strong force in our society. Sisterhood is very strong and I'm really excited for people to see that.
Since I got you here, what’s your view on the #metoo movement anyway. As of this convo, Bill Cosby was just convicted.
Yeah, and man, it’s just time for women’s voices to be heard. People need to understand our position and what’s expected of you when you’re a woman. I don’t think men realize that when a woman walks out every single day, there’s an unconscious way we cater to making some man comfortable. That’s our experience. It’s time for men to be held accountable when they make women feel uncomfortable or do things out of line. Why does one gender get to maneuver the world and not have to worry. It’s just time.
Nicely said. Obviously though, I can’t complete this interview without allowing you to address the critics. Especially those who claimed that too much of the black experience in this show was defined by whiteness. What’s your view on that?
My view is that they should write it (laughs). This is a very specific experience that’s being fictionalized. A Justin Simien creation. This is a young black kid going to a predominantly white institution, so of course the narrative is under the lens of whiteness. That’s where they are! And it’s the whole point. Make a show if you have an issue with it. Write a show about kids going to an HBCU. There’s room for it. But this specific experience exists, it’s real, and it correlates to our society. We live in a world of whiteness and we have to navigate that. It’s our world and we’re literally giving you a reflection of it. So, if you got an issue, turn it outwards and turn it inwards. It’s what’s around you.
So in regular Dear White People Samantha fashion, what do you want your white fans to take away from this new season.
As much as it’s important for us all as a human race to understand what whiteness and blackness is, as it relates to history in America, it’s just as important for us to understand that we’re all a part of the human race. The world isn’t just black and white. There are so many other colours and ethnicities. So, for white people specifically, it would be to watch it and somewhat learn about an experience you may not have had. Watch it to connect to these characters who are still just people. You can be a Coco, a Lionel, a Troy and be a fan. You don’t have to be black to get any of that.
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