Whether she’s tackling racially charged topics on screen or spreading awareness on social media, Logan Browning is making her voice heard. Her latest role as quick-witted radio host, Samantha White, in the acclaimed Netflix dramedy, Dear White People, has propelled her to a whole new level of super stardom. And like her fictional counterpart, no matter what curveballs you throw her way, Browning is up for the challenge. MOD caught up with the 28-year-old Georgia native to learn more about her involvement in the hit Netflix series and her journey to Hollywood. Interview by Shannon Phelps, Photos by Brandon Lundby
Shannon Phelps: When did you realize you wanted to be an actress?
Logan Browning: When I was a little girl, I loved performing for my family. I would put on shows in front of the fireplace. There would be tickets involved, mood lighting, and multiple acts. My little brother, who is now a professional opera singer, was right by my side entertaining. My mom put me into ballet very young and I loved it. I loved the discipline, the adventure of performing at different places, the costumes, and being on stage. My parents took us to a lot of plays, music festivals, and museums so the arts always appeared to be a rewarding and possible career. I also watched a lot of television, and the kids on Disney shows looked like they were having the best time. I wanted to be there with them! These were just parts of the natural progression I had into pursuing acting. There was not a singular epiphany that fueled my desire, but rather a culmination of encouragement, exposure, playful exploration, and opportunity.
Shannon: What was it like growing up with three brothers?
Logan: Unconventional and special. I feel like I grew up with each of my brothers at different points in my life. There is an age gap between me and my older two brothers so most of my adolescence was spent with Keith, my younger brother. We’re only 13 months apart so we did everything together from playing to fighting. My brother Chad, who is about a decade older than me, accepted the task of being my guardian for a year while I was 15 in LA. Prior to that, we would only see each other at family gatherings. This gave us an opportunity to get to know each other and create a sibling bond that I now appreciate having here in California. My oldest brother Clint has made me an auntie four times, and for that I am grateful! When I was filming back in Atlanta, I spent a lot of time with him and his family watching the kids grow up. I bonded with him as a young adult, the third installment to my ‘growing up with three brothers’.
Shannon: You left your home in Jonesboro, Georgia to pursue acting in LA? Describe your experience as you transitioned to life in Hollywood.
Logan: I was 14, and was consciously leaving everything I knew to pursue a career. Aside from it being in television and film, I was a kid pursuing work! When I think back on that, I feel like I was more mature then than I am now. The first year was great for me with regards to bookings, but I was very lonely and wondered what kind of growing up I was missing out on. The second year, my mom put me into a private school rather than me homeschooling so that I could make friends and have more activities and experiences. As I’ve gotten older, I realize more and more how much my parents sacrificed for me. They never burdened me with that. As I grow to understand the monetary, emotional, and time sacrifices they made, I’m inspired to give this career my all. They invested in me, and now I’m carrying the torch all the way.
Shannon: What are some of your favorite things about LA? What are some things you miss about Georgia?
Logan: I love the opportunity in LA: you can do, adventure to, or be anything you want. I can eat great food, watch the sunset over the water, and hike in beautiful weather any day of the week. I miss the community in Georgia. I miss how everything matters. If your local football team wins a game, then it’s front page news, and everybody celebrates you. I miss my family and the warm energy of the people there.
Shannon: You’ve talked about a period in your career, during the writer’s strike, in which you didn’t get any roles for about a year. But soon after, you were cast in Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns and things sort of took off from there. I found this part of your journey very inspiring, and I’m sure other people will, too! How did you manage to stay focused and positive? What would you say to people out there who might be in a rut or struggling through a similar time in their lives?
Logan: Wow, thank you for sharing that you were inspired by my experience. Jobs don’t rule me. Acting is a passion but it’s also a career. When things aren’t busy workwise, I move on to another productive avenue. I love to flow through life. It’s important to pursue the things your heart wants, but it is equally important to not limit your opportunities in life by being so narrowly focused that you miss the other blessings around you. I needed income so I got a front desk job at Kaplan, and I took an ancient history class at UCLA. I continued to have faith that God didn’t bring me as far as I had come to just leave me.
Shannon: I think it’s awesome that you’re representing for all the curly girls out there! It’s important for all of us to see reflections of ourselves in the media and be proud of our natural features. What advice would you give to young women who are either deciding whether to go natural, or struggling to embrace their hair texture?
Logan: Try it! Let go of the fear of your natural hair texture not being professional enough, or perfect enough, or manageable. I had no idea I could play with my hair as much as I have before I was a curly girl. I thought my options were limited. It wasn’t until I went on the natural hair journey, embracing and defending the health of my tresses, that I began to experience the various styles and techniques of curly hair.
Shannon: Tell us about your natural hair journey. How do you protect your hair, especially in your profession?
Logan: I first decided to go natural when I went to college. That’s when I decided to stop getting relaxers. However, I realized that because I was straightening my hair, I still wasn’t seeing my true curl pattern. During the second season of Hit the Floor, I started wearing a half wig. My hair was braided up and wasn’t being manipulated by heat, so that was the first time I got a peek at my natural texture. I was shocked and in love with how curly my hair was! After that I was determined for all of my hair be that texture and I eventually chopped off the straight ends. I protect my mane by refusing to use hot tools. Simple as that. It’s been a struggle, but where there’s a wig, there’s a way!
Shannon: You play Samantha White in Netflix’s hit series, Dear White People, which is based on the 2014 film of the same name. One of the things I enjoyed about this adaptation was that the format allowed for a much more in-depth development of each character. What was something new you discovered with your version of Sam that wasn’t explored in the film?
Logan: This is a great question! I haven’t thought of that before now. I think just actually being the character as opposed to watching another actress play her allowed me to understand more of her motives and her psyche.
Shannon: Dear White People examines race relations at the predominantly white, Ivy League-inspired Winchester University. For your freshman year of college, you attended Vanderbilt University, also a predominantly white institution. Any parallels between that campus setting and the one depicted on the show? And would you say that experience helped you with your portrayal of Sam?
Logan: The marginalized groups on both the fictional Winchester and Vanderbilt find “safe spaces”: settings where they don’t have to feel isolated as an outsider. The more you can see people who look like you around in a place where people are overwhelmingly one ethnicity, you feel empowered and supported and are more likely to participate in campus culture because you don’t feel alone. I think going to Vanderbilt helped me to feel comfortable telling the story of an experience I knew first-hand.
Shannon: Your character’s conflict with her former best friend, Coco, is especially compelling. Sam is all about the revolution, while Coco seems more interested in assimilation. Tell us a little more about that relationship and how it changes throughout the course of the season.
Logan: I don’t think Coco wants to assimilate as much as she wants to preserve herself and the people she cares about. They’re both women who know that a revolution is necessary, but Sam wants to be heard and wants to make sure the people who have the luxury of ignoring the problem are aware of the damage their negligence has. The beauty of the unraveling of their relationship is that it implores Sam to challenge herself and her awareness. I love that the two women learn to coexist with a mutual respect, even though they don’t always agree.
Shannon: What does the term “woke” mean to you and how do you feel about its use within the black community? Would you say it encourages people to get informed about social issues or does it suggest that there’s only one appropriate response to racism and systemic oppression? (Or both?)
Logan: “Woke” is a jumping off point for some, and a destination for others. To me, it means you’re awakened to knowing how imperative awareness is, and you make a conscious effort to spread that awareness. Some people are further along in the journey of seeing past the smoke and mirrors our society charades us with, and those people are our mighty leaders who keep us all at peak “wokeness.” However, I don’t see the benefit in embroidering people with a scarlet letter if they haven’t reached enlightenment. Some people haven’t had the privilege of not having privilege, and to educate them about it is more beneficial than making them villains.
Shannon: What was your favorite Dear White People scene to film?
Logan: I loved the black caucus scenes because we all were together. I love seeing all the costumes in one space, and my cast is full of brilliant artists to watch and be around.
Shannon: There’s a hilarious scene in the show, where Sam’s walking on campus listening to an acoustic song, then immediately switches to a rap song with the lyrics “I’m black and I’m proud” as she passes a group of black students. I thought this instance of code switching was a brilliant way to illustrate Sam’s identity struggle. Can you elaborate on this idea?
Logan: I loved that scene. It was quick and got a major character trait across for Sam. I remember the hard part of filming it was that I didn’t have music playing in my headphones, and I had no idea what songs would be used. I did understand how music affects mood and I used that in my performance. Code switching is something I’m very familiar with. With Sam, it was interesting to watch her choose to put on a different persona just to walk by other black students. It showed how important it is for her to be seen and accepted as a part of the black community on campus.
Shannon: There’s another scene in DWP, where your character talks about black people being “accused of crying wolf” whenever they call out racism. I found that line very interesting because it demonstrates the very lack of understanding the show is trying to address. There are many people in our country who’d rather ignore the racial tensions in our society than confront them. What would you say to the people out there who refuse to acknowledge racism as a real issue in today’s society?
Logan: They are just as much a problem as the racism that exists. Not much change happens when people don’t acknowledge that a change is necessary. Later in that same monologue, Sam references passive liberalists. There are so many people who claim to be a supporter of equal rights, but who don’t show up or speak up when it matters. I see it in my personal life on social media when there’s a tragedy in another country or the passing of a celebrity and folks post all about it, but when a black man is murdered by a cop they’re silent.
Shannon: Speaking of turning a blind eye, what are your thoughts on people who say things like “I don’t see race/color?” Do you find this statement problematic?
Logan: By denying a person’s ethnicity, you assume that they’ve had the same experience as you. Ignoring that you may be sitting across from someone who’s been racially profiled all their life or had racial slurs directed at them means you are neglecting to understand them. Every ethnicity holds beauty, culture and history. There is not one that is superior over the other. You limit your own experience by not acknowledging people’s differences.
Shannon: ‘Chapter V’ is an incredibly moving episode, in which the series explores one of the ugliest realities of our society: police brutality. There’s a scene where one of the characters’ lives is threatened by campus security. What kind of emotional effect did that scene have on you and how did it affect your performance?
Logan: The party scene in chapter 5 was difficult to film because it was revealing and reliving the truth over and over for every angle and every take. I was broken up between takes, we all were. We needed breaks to let go of the emotional tension that scene was brewing. For Sam in that scene, I chose for her to be enraged at the officer because it aligned with her motives on her radio show. As you later find out, Gabe is the person who called the cops, so he wasn’t by Sam’s side in that moment. I remember Justin pulling John Patrick from part of the scene (before we knew he would be the caller), and I wondered why he wasn’t near me. Since Gabe wasn’t by Sam’s side to keep her calm, there’s a moment when she lunges into the confrontation and Joelle restrains her from getting involved and potentially making it worse.
Shannon: Another interesting takeaway from that episode is the N-word issue. There’s still a lot of controversy around the context in which the word can be used and why it’s only acceptable for black people to say it. What are your thoughts on black people’s use of the N-word and what would you say to people who think there’s a double standard?
Logan: If you’re not black, don’t say the word, and let the black community sort out what we want to do with it. It’s not your word to use. White people in America used that word to degrade black people for centuries. Literally HUNDREDS of years of demeaning black people with a word, and it hasn’t stopped. To persecute black people for limiting who can use this repurposed word that was intended to harm us is just as controlling as using the word as a tool for oppression. Maybe one day the word will dissipate from black culture altogether, but until it does, there is this one thing for certain.
Shannon: That particular episode was directed by the talented Barry Jenkins, who also directed the Academy Award-winning film, Moonlight. Describe your experience working with him.
Logan: I loved the few scenes I filmed with Barry. He is a hands-on director and has a clear vision, but doesn’t crowd the creative space of an actor. I really hope he comes back for season 2 and I get the opportunity to work with him more.
Shannon: Who are some other directors/actors you’d like to work with?
Logan: I’m dreaming big here, but I would love to work with Meryl Streep, Mahershala Ali, Naomi Harris, Ruth Negga, Viola Davis, or Nicole Kidman, to name a few. I also love working with theater trained actors because they bring a depth to every performance that I love to learn from.
Shannon: Dear White People explores several themes relevant to today’s social & political climate, but what do you think is the show’s overall message?
Logan: Overall, the show’s message is empathy. Every issue boils down to that. When you learn about other people’s experiences and have compassion rather than disdain or defensiveness, you are on the track to being an empathetic human, which the world needs so much more of.
Shannon: I read that the show actually wrapped production on Election Day. What was that like for the cast & crew?
Logan: It was a depressing twilight zone. The day started light and fun with wrap gifts and food trucks, and it eventually turned into prepping for doomsday. John Patrick and I had to redo a scene from episode one, which was already challenging to try to recreate after having lived with our characters and their relationship through an entire season. With the additional obstacle, I pulled John Patrick outside to get away from our dismal reality and stay focused on the task at hand.
Shannon: You star in a hit show on Netflix, but what’s your favorite show to binge watch in your spare time?
Logan: I’m obsessed with The Handmaid’s Tale! The story, the performances, the costumes, the set, and the direction all make it a masterpiece. It’s a show I will watch more than once to really study the nuance!
Shannon: What’s the last album you listened to?
Logan: SZA’s CTRL & next up is Jay-Z’s 4:44.
Shannon: If you had to eat one meal, every day, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Logan: Kale salad with grilled salmon.
Shannon: What are some beauty products you can’t live without?
Logan: Coconut oil, a bar of Dove soap, and a good dental kit. People neglect to include dental hygiene as an integral part of their beauty regimen. My dad was a dentist so I must shout out keeping your mouth and teeth clean and having healthy gums as a key beauty tool.
Shannon: How would you describe your style? What’s your go-to outfit for a casual day?
Logan: My style is evolving. I would describe myself as bohemian chic. My go-to outfit would be a dress because I love to be comfortable. I can be in flats for most of the day and then throw on a heel and a red lip at night and be ready to hit the town.
Shannon: What’s a recent fashion trend that you’re not really a fan of?
Logan: I really like how explorative fashion is right now, so I don’t have much I’m not vibing with. It’s summer, and ladies are rocking the shorts that have the bottom of their ass cheeks hanging out. I am guilty of wearing them occasionally, but I’m still not a fan of it. They’re cool at the beach, not on the street!
Shannon: What are some qualities you look for in a guy?
Logan: Well, I’ve stopped looking for one. I was spending way too much energy on finding the right guy and in doing so, I wasn’t focused on making ME a greater woman. If a guy does come my way, I’m attracted to warmth, confidence, intelligence, a deep caring for family, a purpose-driven life, someone interested in investing (time, money, and heart), humor, and a gentleman.
Shannon: What are your biggest turnoffs?
Logan: I’m immediately turned off if a guy doesn’t respect me enough to get out of the car when he pulls up to take me out on a date. I also don’t like when men repeatedly make physical advances if I haven’t reciprocated. It’s a common-sense social cue to me. Hands off, sir!
Shannon: What’s an interesting fact about yourself that people might be surprised to know?
Logan: I don’t work out nearly as much as my athletic figure would lead you to believe.
Photographer: Brandon Lundby
Makeup Artist: Tasha Brown for Exclusive Artists using Bobbi Brown
Hair Stylist: Naivasha Johnson for Exclusive Artists using Enzo Milano and Oribe Haircare
Wardrobe Stylist: Jessy Cain @ The Wall Group