Best known for her portrayal of Samantha White—a complicated, “woke” college student at a fictional Ivy League school—on Netflix’s satirical series Dear White People, Logan Browning is as captivating as the show’s character, but without the unnecessary drama.
Born in Atlanta, the 32-year old actress has been performing since she was a kid. She made her acting debut on the teen series Summerland, and went on to Nickelodeon’s Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, followed by Bratz:The Movie, in which she played Sasha in the live-action film based on the line of fashion dolls. She later transitioned to more adult fare with the films The Perfection and Meet The Browns, and the popular VH1 series Hit The Floor as the character Jelena Howard.
EBONY caught up with the vivacious actress on a recent Thursday afternoon and chatted with her about the final season of Dear White People, her evolving view of activism, and her plans for what’s next.
Your character, Samantha White, goes through an emotional rollercoaster of changes over the previous three seasons as she struggles with her identity. How does your path align with hers?
From the very beginning of the series (all the way back to our auditions), I re-read the film script so that I could really see what [the show’s creator] Justin [Simien] had envisioned for Sam from the inception of him first conceiving this character. When I read my audition script, I really wanted to put some of me in it because it’s very similar to my experience. Through the past 4 seasons of being this character, I’ve been able to merge some elements of mine with hers, but also make it about her own thing, with her own issues, her own strengths, and her own true journey.
How much input did you have into creating Sam as a character?
I had the opportunity to add input with Justin, [the executive producer] Yvette [Lee Bowser], our writers. They were always very inviting in terms of what we wanted to see, but I always chose to let them make the decisions. Because it’s more fun for me that way with Sam. I’m so close to her, I didn’t want to be the one influencing her. I was really curious about where they wanted to take her.
That’s what I love about being on the acting side. Producing and directing is something that’s here and now for me and something I’m very excited about doing [one day]. There’s also something very liberating about showing up and taking what someone else has created and making it your own without changing the words. It’s like “how do you take what’s on the page and make that person who you want them to be and see in the world and be represented in mass media?” That’s just as exciting for me as being part of creating a character and the dialogue.
I’ve read somewhere that you thought your character Sam White has made you think about activism and the world differently.
I would say that when we first started the show, I really connected to a lot of Sam’s monologues; they were things that I was feeling at the time and I felt like I didn’t have a platform to voice my own opinions. So, yes, it was a bit cathartic for myself and for the people who watched it, I hope. As we continued doing the show, I was reading my castmates’ interviews and listening to them and how they were interpreting the character and how they experienced the ramifications of light-skinned privilege—and how I then was able to internalize the things that I had missed growing up when it comes to that.
The other thing that the show gave me in terms of understanding the role of activism is that there are so many different lanes. It’s not [about doing] one thing or another. Especially when last summer happened and everyone felt that they could come together and be unified—that was a great realization of that. It doesn’t have to be one voice or the other.
Speaking of light-skinned privilege, how did it affect you?
I grew up in a Black household. We had a lot of art in my home. For instance, in my bedroom was this beautiful painting and it was this little girl with a cat and she’s walking to her house and she’s brown-skinned. In the bathroom, there was [ a painting] of an African brother and sister helping each other get ready. The images around you are really what influence you. Because the images in my home were that, I didn’t have the reckoning really that I looked different and that it was affecting my opportunities. I also think my mom and dad did that intentionally. I don’t fault them for it because I feel like they wanted to make sure that I didn’t grow up with this idea that I was somehow supposed to think of myself as any different. I think that was intentional on their part.
The finale of Season 4 is a 90’s themed musical. How did that idea come about?
It was all Justin. Justin did a lot of musical theater in college and he’s always loved the idea of doing a musical episode and it turned into doing a musical season. I think he knew that he had a cast full of people who also enjoy music and musical theater. It’s kind of like a “why not” thing. I loved reading [about] the people online who were so completely confused by the fact that this season is a musical because I get it. If The Crown’s last season was a musical, people would be so confused. The reason it’s not confusing is because Black people are literally singing all the time. It’s just what we do. Someone can say one word and then all of a sudden the rest of the room bursts out into the same song. It’s just a part of what we do. It’s a part of us. So, to me it feels very appropriate.
You’ve stated that season 4 will be “Blacker” than ever. What can we expect to see?
Specifically, because it is a musical a lot of our songs are 90s R&B. Culturally, the 90’s were a revolution. It’s kind of like the moment we’re in now where it feels like this re-emergence of Black excellence in the media. The 90s were really the last time that happened. So, by using the device of 90s R&B music, we’re just honoring all of these incredible artists who were on top at the time. You see it in the fashion, the choreography—we have this amazing choreographer named Jamila. It’s just ever present, as it always is in Dear White People.
In an interview with Variety, you reveal that you have Broadway dreams, and have auditioned for some off-Broadway musicals. What kind of musical would you most want to star in?
Maybe we should just make Dear White People a musical and put it on Broadway (laughs). One of the things I loved growing up was Wicked. I’d totally love to play Elphaba. I also would love to do something new with some young, new Black female playwright, who’s creating some incredible project.
If you could write it, what would you want for you character on the show in her senior year at Winchester?
That’s a hard question because I already did it.The fascinating thing about Season 4 is that it’s senior year but we also explore 10 years into the future. One of the things I appreciated that Justin did was really tracking these high-achieving, goal oriented students at Winchester, which is an Ivy League, and see what that does to them in the future. Especially, in terms of them trying to climb the ladder of success in their chosen fields and whether they succeed at that, and where it’s left them in their life and in their happiness. I found that a very interesting exploration. Honestly, I feel like Sam ends up where I would’ve imagined her to be. She ends up back at the radio station in Season 4, which I love because that was the first thing I loved about playing her. She had this radio station and this voice and that’s her home. I’m really glad that she got to be back there.
What are your plans after the season ends?
I will always go on to do great things. I don’t know what God has planned. I honestly really enjoy the time off. I’ve been working since I was a kid and sometimes when you go from character to character, you don’t have enough time to stop and be yourself and to explore your life, clean your closet (literally and figuratively), spend time with your family, and step away for a bit and take a birds-eye view of the bigger picture. I feel very blessed that I don’t ever really worry about what’s coming next because I know I can manifest and work hard and create whatever it is that I want to. I believe that for myself and I believe that for everyone. I’ve really been enjoying taking the time [off.] I hope our culture and society can embrace people just being and not that they’re successful [only] when they’re climbing the ladder. I obviously want to continue to follow my dreams and chase goals, but I really am embracing this time because I think I know that around the corner I’ll be working a lot again so I want to just enjoy this.