By Faye Hyslop
Sweet, intelligent, passionate, beautiful—her name is Logan Browning. Browning stars in the Netflix Original Series Dear White People as the lead role of Sam, based on the 2014 feature film of the same name. She’s also a series regular on the BET-scripted series Hit The Floor. Additionally, she signed on to star alongside Allison Williams (Get Out) in a horror thriller film due out later this year called The Perfection. We caught up with the busy actress and activist to talk about her experiences in Hollywood.
Monarch Magazine: You began your journey at a young age. What initially gave you the notion that acting was the career you wanted?
Logan Browning: Well, my parents, both being business people, wanted to instill a few things in us that were important to a wonderful life. Those things were an education, being self-sufficient and independent, as well as spirituality and a connection to the arts. My parents were really great about exposing me and my siblings to museums and plays. I didn’t realize as a kid that it wasn’t an average childhood to go to as many plays and jazz concerts as we did. We went to so many events! So arts and culture were always a part of my life. Then my mom put me into ballet at a really young age, so I began performing really young. I used to watch the Disney channel and I loved it! Raven Simone and Tia and Tamera were always in my living room and became my friends. They were my role models without even trying to be. I thought that I could be that too. I was pretty sure that would be me. I wanted to be a Disney kid. That was my goal at a really young age.
Monarch Magazine: The phrase “no matter what you do they keep you pulling you back in” really suits your experience. Being that you decided to exit acting a couple times, and then Hollywood came back knocking. That had to be a great feeling, right?
Logan Browning: That pull was just me not being sure of what I was supposed to be doing with my life. God saying, “this is what it is, I know you’re a little confused, you may be a bit lost but this is where you’re supposed to be,” because sometimes I would question it. But things were just so obvious; I’d be brought back to acting or back to LA. For me, it’s just confirmation that I was in the right place. Acting is not a normal job. It can be fun it and it can also be challenging, but one thing that it’s not is normal. I discovered that as you continue to grow and advance your career, you also begin to understand more about the why and the how. It’s crazy, because when I look back, I think wow, if I had stopped then I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be this kind of a representation or to be this kind of voice or even the person in someone’s living room that takes them away from all of the stresses in their lives. Those things just wouldn’t have happened.
Monarch Magazine: How did you get involved with Dear White People?
Logan Browning: I got the audition for Dear White People and remember being so excited about it and wanting it. When I really want something, there are few things that can get in my way, because I push myself to get it. You get a lot of auditions that you really want. I took this one so seriously that I remember dressing up for the part, just trying to sink into it as much as I could. I read for Kim Coleman, who is an amazing casting director. She liked it and brought me back to read for the producers and it was pure magic. My test was reading with Ashley. It was just this natural, comfortable feeling that she and I had. It (the casting) happened really fast. It wasn’t this drawn out process like I’ve experienced previously. I heard later that they had wanted to make a Dear White People series and had actors for these other characters. Some were from the film, but the problem was they needed a Sam. You can’t really have your Dear White People without your Sam. I think that’s why it came together so quickly, because they were excited about having me as Sam, which was an awesome thing to hear about later.
Monarch Magazine: What’s going on with Sam and her character on the second season of Dear White People?
Logan Browning: In season two, which I love, it’s the fallout from season one. It picks up with the protest where all the students left off and with Sam in particular and her relationship with Gabe and things backfiring against her and how she’s dealing with it all. It’s about where all the characters are already and how are they dealing with the trauma that they have experienced. You are going to get to see Sam really deal with things that she seemed to have her armor up against in season one. That armor is exposed in season two. It humanizes Sam; she will no longer be viewed as this militant, young woman who isn’t affected at all. You’ll see the emotional side of her.
Monarch Magazine: Dear White People was a little ahead of what is currently appearing on television. It’s almost like a black renaissance in film. Were you fearful of being typecast?
Logan Browning: I didn’t think Sam was the type that I’d been seen as before. I very much respect all of the creators of Dear White People and think they are great as artistic leaders because they are telling their stories. Sometimes what happens when artists tell their stories is they come under fire because it’s not everyone’s story and that’s true, but some people can relate to these stories while others won’t. And the ones that don’t relate to the stories that look like you may accuse you of not being authentic, but that’s not the case because there are so many stories that need to be told. I think by telling these nuanced character stories you’re able to open the door for other people to tell theirs. I think that’s why the critique on black filmmakers or creators who are putting out original creative content should be filtered through the idea of them releasing their art to open doors for other people. Granted, every piece of art deserves to be liked and disliked and cherished and trashed, and that’s what makes art, art. However, everyone is not going to agree that it’s beautiful, but that’s what makes it interesting to talk about. Young black filmmakers who have the audacity to tell their own stories should be celebrated by people rather than critiqued for telling a story that doesn’t necessarily coincide with others.
Monarch Magazine: Sam is such a span character. Would you say you relate to her in any way?
Logan Browning: Absolutely. She’s so multifaceted as a person and has many different masks that she has to put on, and I think that everyone can kind of relate to that. I love that she is in college, people can remember being in college and trying to discover themselves and who they were. You can come in with this idea that you are a certain type of person, but being in that kind of controlled environment will quickly mold you into who you really need to be to survive. I think that Sam comes into a collegiate space with a very span mindset and idea of her personality and that even with that span will she knows who she is, but it still changes and is molded and that is fun for me. I’m not exactly like her, but we’re similar in many ways.
Monarch Magazine: How much of your own personal experience do you pull from when playing the role of Sam from Dear White People?
Logan Browning: I went to Vanderbilt University. I went to a school that was predominately white so I did experience what it’s like to be one of the few black people on campus and how that can isolate you into that specific group of people just to feel normal. It doesn’t feel normal when you’re the only one. I was one of two black girls on my entire dorm floor. It’s not something you notice all the time, but you are aware of it and it does affect how you navigate in that space and how comfortable you feel. If I had gone to an HBCU and everyone around me was black, I think I would have felt a little more comfortable. I could put myself in the mindset of being a white girl on the campus that I was on and would be certain that they felt comfortable. They just never had an idea that I was sometimes tiptoeing and hoping that I was still going to fit in, making sure that nothing that I did was out of the ordinary or would ostracize me for being in a group of people that I was always going to be around. I think I definitely pulled from that experience. The cool thing about Dear White People is because it focuses on a core group, (young African Americans finding their way), it almost feels like an HBCU because that’s what you see. I mean you do see everyone else on campus, but when you find those pockets of people, that’s who you kind of surround yourself with. You start to forget that you are on this campus where you’re feeling left out. But if something bad happens, you’re quickly reminded about where you are. The things people say or don’t mean to say still affects you. I was easily able to tap into Sam’s experiences because of my own encounters in college.
Monarch Magazine: Are you often mistaken to having the same personality as the character Sam?
Logan Browning: I think the one thing that people expect of me when they meet me is that I am also a span activist, which I love. It makes me feel that I have a responsibility to be a voice. I already want to be one, but then if I have all these people looking at me wondering what I have to say about this or how I am influencing that, it’s kind of a great thing because I actually want to be that person.
Monarch Magazine: What are some causes that you are passionate about?
Logan Browning: I am very much an advocate for Arts in the school system. They have been turning a lot of schools into magnet schools back in Georgia where I grew up, and I just find that kids need an artistic outlet. It has such a healing power and saves a lot of kids. I am constantly heartbroken about the homeless epidemic in the United States and globally, but especially in the United States. The way we treat our homeless population is truly disgusting. I constantly think about how to assist people who are reentering society to not be considered as castaways and helping with their rehabilitation to normalcy. The Black Lives Matter movement is one that I’ll always be passionate about. I’ve heard it said that you can’t overwhelm yourself with all of the goings on in the world, but taking one step at a time and seeing what you can help change that’s right in front of you is empowering and achievable. For me, that changes often so I really try to stay open to wherever my voice and where my services can be used in a positive way. I don’t find myself chained to one particular cause.
Monarch Magazine: With the current success of Black Panther and Wonder Woman reflecting such powerful female figures, do you believe more roles will open up for female actors?
Logan Browning: They already have. If you look at our box office you can see how many female faces are on the posters for “coming soon” films or ones that are already out. I think we are on an upward crescendo. There’s always going to be room for more, but it’s definitely a great time for diversity in every way. I think what we’ll find as the years go by is that the idea of diversity will continue to expand, not just about ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, but also to deaf, mute, special needs, and physical disabilities. All of these things will broaden as we continue to make art and people continue to feel excluded about it. They will speak up and become filmmakers, and audiences will go “wow, I never realized that we never had an actress with Down’s Syndrome, and now we that do, look how amazing that is.” Those thoughts and conversations will continue to happen. There are other people who are left out of the conversation that we don’t even know about yet. Overall, there are amazing opportunities for women right now and there will continue to be more. I’m excited about the doors that will continue to open for everybody.
Monarch Magazine: With that being said, if you could have a super power what would it be?
Logan Browning: If I could have a super power, it would be that I could get people off the streets. Like, if I walked past someone and I saw them I could wave my magic “whatever” and they would be back somewhere warm and with their family. And it would be just that easy. It’s never actually that easy, but if I had a super power, that’s exactly what it would be.
Monarch Magazine: You have had a lot of success with TV, but you will soon be making the jump to big screen movies. How does that make you feel? What, if anything, about the process is different from television?
Logan Browning: I’ve done box office (played Sasha in the 2007 film Bratz: The Movie) before, but I think because I did it at such a young age (seventeen) I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was. It was really exciting, but I think I was still discovering how big the role was, what that meant, and how many people around the world would see it. Now as a more mature person, I am able to choose roles that are exciting, and I can see them before they are even out and gauge the kind of reach they’re going to have. It’s empowering and makes me also want to be careful about the images I’m putting out and portraying because I have become conscious of what people are going to see now. I’m excited, I feel really grateful to be working with the team that I’m working with on the film Perfection. Everyone is committed to making a great film. I definitely hope to do more films because it’s a great kind of immersion. The difference I have encountered between film and television is I feel completely immersed in film. I go off the map when I film a TV series, but with film you get so deep into it then come out on the other side. Also with television there’s a sense of a long-lasting family that you’re constantly seeing season after season, and it’s great to come back to the same people over and over again.
Monarch Magazine: Tell us about your new project Perfection and your role within it.
Logan Browning: I can’t say much. I don’t want to spoil it for anybody. It’s about two young cello prodigies played by myself and Allison Williams, and their obsession that drives them into a dark pursuit of perfection. It’s an exciting horror thriller. I can’t wait to see what it looks like on Thanksgiving.
Monarch Magazine: Perfection is a little dark to say the least. How did you channel the energy to bring your character to life?
Logan Browning: Well, I learned how to play the cello! Can’t say too much else unfortunately. You’ll have to wait and see it!
Monarch Magazine: How was it starring opposite Allison Williams with all of her success on the groundbreaking film Get Out and Girls?
Logan Browning: Allison is such a sweetheart, really smart and kind. I feel blessed to be around her because she’s a pleasant person and she’s an ally to a million wonderful causes. I loved her in Get Out. I mean, she played that character so perfectly. It’s a crazy kind of thing to be working with an actress who over the weekend goes to LA and is sitting in the audience at the Oscars for a film she’s nominated in, then see her come back the next minute working opposite me! It’s a crazy kind of a feeling. She’s just wonderful.
Monarch Magazine: Not that you don’t have enough on your plate, but I’m curious about what else you would like to tackle?
Logan Browning: Directing is next on my list of things to do. On a smaller scale of course, so that I can really hone my skills. I would love to do another feature; they are really so much fun. The commitment is… you do it and it’s done and you get to move on to the next thing.
Monarch Magazine: Do you have any aspirations to get behind the lens?
Logan Browning: For sure. You don’t work in this industry for a decade and a half and watch all of these people create really cool things and not want to be a part of it. You spend so much time in front of the camera and watch these people make you look good. You eventually want to become one of those people. There’s great magic in it. Browning recently wrapped filming for Season 2 of Dear White People, and will appear on the fourth season of the dance drama Hit the Floor. Logan Browning is span-willed and making power moves in Hollywood. With so many new projects coming out this year, this Atlanta native is definitely one to watch. She’s not just an actress; she’s an activist too.