Following is my interview with Logan Browning in August 2016, several months before the TV adaptation of the 2014 movie “Dear White People” premiered on Netflix. The series examines race relations on the campus of an Ivy League institution. Samantha White (Browning), a bi-racial student who is still figuring out her own identity, becomes the de-facto leader of the black students on campus. Since the April 28 premiere, the much talked about show has earned both critics and fans for its handling of race matters. Browning and series creator, Justin Simien, have taken the time to speak out about some of the concerns. In this interview, Browning reflects on her path to acting, her life in Atlanta, and the show that now has everyone talking.
At age 14, Logan Browning boarded a plane and left her home in Jonesboro for Los Angeles. She knew she wanted to be a performer and at the time, the big opportunities just weren’t coming to Clayton County.
Since then, Browning, 27 — who has had featured roles in “Meet the Browns,” “Hit the Floor,” which returns to VH1 Sept. 5, and in the upcoming Netflix series based on the film “Dear White People,” — has found herself doing quite a bit of filming in her hometown. All of her recent projects (except for VH1) have filmed in the metro area, she said.
“Atlanta is a beautiful place to work,” said Browning in an interview by phone. “There are so many different locations. When I film in Atlanta, I meet a lot of people who live in North Carolina and Florida and they drive three to six hours to come and work in Atlanta. It is opportunity. It is not just Georgia folks, it is everyone on the East coast.”
When Browning was an aspiring actress, her parents spent many hours shuttling her to and from the city for theater and arts programs.
“It took a lot of persistence and a lot of sacrifice on my family’s part,” said Browning. “The things they did showed me what unconditional love is and the things that I need to do as a parent.”
One of her regular activities was to attend Barbizon where she learned etiquette and had the chance to attend a week-long convention/competition in Los Angeles. From there she got an agent and with support from her parents, she took the leap and moved to LA.
Her early projects included the CW series “Summerland” but soon, Browning’s parents convinced her to return home to graduate from high school in Georgia with the family and friends she had left behind.
Browning transferred to Fayette County High School and after graduation she returned to LA to film Bratz: The Movie. She would later attend Vanderbilt University, before returning to LA, where she currently resides.
Though it ruffled feathers among some industry veterans in LA, Atlanta was finally becoming a contender in the film and television thanks in large part to the success of Tyler Perry.
Browning landed the role of Brianna Ortiz in Tyler Perry’s “Meet the Browns” appearing in more than 100 episodes from 2009 to 2011.
Other projects followed including VH1’s “Hit the Floor” in 2013 and the recently cancelled “Powers” in 2015.
As Jelena in “Hit the Floor” — the VH1 series about the cutthroat world of NBA cheerleading — Browning has had the chance to challenge herself in many ways.
“I had no dance training before ‘Hit the Floor,'” she said. “I am dancing with professional dancers who have been doing this since they were three-years-old. I trained for eight months. It is the most I have ever done to prepare for a role.”
In addition, the role of Jelena — a complex character who has lots of enemies and ended the season as the victim of a shooting — forced her to not make surface level judgments of roles as she may have done in the past.
“Before I played Jelena, I was so anti-playing-that-character. I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to play the mean girl.’ Everyone will see me as the light-skinned girl with the light eyes and the b**** and I don’t want to be that,” she said.
But learning to bring layers to the character helped open her eyes as did learning more about the women behind the sexy NBA cheerleader uniforms.
“It is definitely a fictionalized world that we have created. The NBA and NFL dancers are amazing women. If you are ever bored, go to the NFL or NBA websites and it will tell you what all these women do. They are doctor and lawyers. They have professions and this is something they do for fun,” Browning said.
Certain roles have helped her stretch as an actress and Browning has also discovered some freedoms in working with networks such as VH1, Playstation and soon Netflix.
“It has been really refreshing and I feel supported. I work for companies that are all trying things for the first time. I am still figuring me out. It feels like a hand-in-hand operation,” she said.
She has been able to delve into topics that other networks may shy away from and has been embraced as an actor by the kind of devoted fan base that may or may not exist for shows on the bigger networks.
Looking forward, Browning is excited to get started on the upcoming Netflix series, “Dear White People,” in which she will reprise the role of Sam played by Tessa Thompson in the 2014 satirical movie about the lives of four black students at an Ivy League college.
VIDEO: “Dear White People” – A discussion with black university students about the Netflix series.
“It was one of those things where you think ‘This is me,’” Browning said. “It is different for me. I am most excited about the unknown. This show will tackle some heavy topics which I am not a stranger to in my performance, but also it feels appropriate because I am constantly searching for ways to have an impactful, purposeful voice.”
Acting brings a lot of fun, she said, from taking pretty pictures to serving as a role model, but when you have attention focused on you, you begin to wonder how you can use it to better the world.
“You can’t be on a show called ‘Dear White People’ and not care about things,” said Browning. “I feel really rewarded with this opportunity and I know I am going to learn so much.”