‘Hollywood Remixed’: ‘Dear White People’ Star Logan Browning Reflects on College

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In honor of Dear White People‘s return to Netflix for a fourth and final — and musical! — season, this week’s episode of Hollywood Remixed is dedicated to the Black college experience.

Logan Browning, who stars as documentary film student and campus radio host Samantha White (the role played by Tessa Thompson in the original 2014 film), joins the podcast to talk about her own college days (she spent a year at Vanderbilt) and what playing the campus firebrand has taught her. “The thing that I would probably take from the show is compassionate empathy,” Browning tells host and senior editor Rebecca Sun. “She has no problem saying her truth, and she does it with good intentions, to protect people. And sometimes she’s wrong, and she gets to learn from that and evolve.”

The Hollywood Reporter‘s new culture writer, Evan Nicole Brown, also joins the show to shed some perspective on her own college experience at Bard. Both Browning and Brown chose to attend PWIs (predominantly white institutions), and the two discuss how their experience differed from those who attended HBCUs.

“I was really attracted to Bard’s literature program, which is what I ended up majoring in,” Brown explains. “I always knew that I was choosing the program and education I was going to get at Bard more than the community. I knew that I was going to lose something and let something go by choosing a school like Bard over an HBCU like Howard. … It’s a tradeoff that never really ends in life.”

Catch up on all the episodes of Hollywood Remixed, including last week’s discussion about undocumented immigrant narratives with Define American founder Jose Antonio Vargas and Blue Bayou director and star Justin Chon, and subscribe to the show on the podcast platform of your choice to be alerted when new episodes drop.

Hollywood Remixed

Episode 2×6: Logan Browning – “From School Daze to Dear White People: The Different World of Black College Narratives”

Intro music: Jaunty, upbeat chords interspersed with the sound of a DJ scratching a record back and forth on a turntable. A voice faintly hollers in the background: “Hollywood Remixed!”

Rebecca Sun: Welcome to Hollywood Remixed, a topical podcast about inclusion and representation in culture and entertainment. I’m Rebecca Sun, senior editor of diversity and inclusion at The Hollywood Reporter. Here on our show, each episode is dedicated to a single theme that is centered around characters, identities or storylines that have traditionally been excluded or misrepresented in mainstream culture.

This week, in honor of one of my favorite shows, Dear White People, whose fourth and final season is dropping on Netflix today, we’re dedicating the episode to Black college stories. I’m delighted to have Logan Browning, who stars on Dear White People as Sam, join us later to talk about how this series has represented a diverse range of perspectives and backgrounds among its student body. She’ll also share a little bit about her own college journey.

But first, we’ll take a walk — a campus tour, if you will — through Hollywood’s history of Black-centered college movies and TV shows. In researching this subject, I was very much guided by a column written by the late critic Roland Laird for Pop Matters in 2011. I’ll link to his work in the transcript to this episode, which you can find at THR.com, and on my Twitter thread for this episode, which will be @therebeccasun.

To accompany me on the tour and add even more dimension to our discussion about college experiences for Black students, I’m happy to welcome yet another THR colleague to Hollywood Remixed. Evan Nicole Brown just joined The Hollywood Reporter earlier this month as our culture writer. She was most recently a New York Times fellow and has written for Fast Company, Atlas Obscura and Bushwick Daily.

Evan, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s always nice to talk to a colleague, especially a new one and get to have a chance to actually talk face to face.

Evan Nicole Brown: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be discussing this with you.

Sun: So with today’s topic, when we were pre-gaming prior to hitting record, we discussed the option of going linearly through the history of various representations of Black collegiate life, but we decided on instead going topically, and we’ll pull in examples as they go. But first, because I think it’s very important when we talk about media to realize that there’s no such thing as a viewer who is a blank slate, everybody approaches a piece of art with the full context of their experiences, so if you don’t mind, I love to hear about what your college experience was like. You went to Bard, is that right?

Brown: That’s correct. And being a born and raised Angeleno, going to a small liberal arts school on the east coast, in New York’s Hudson Valley was a totally different experience from the urban and very diverse environment I grew up in. So in terms of being a Black student at Bard, there was definitely a cohort of us. We were not at all in the majority. But it became important to find certain affinity groups and to find interest areas that could connect me with other students both beyond my race but also within my own Blackness, because finding those corners of the campus on my own, it became very apparent to me the second I got on campus that that wasn’t going to be immediately available if I didn’t look for it myself.

In terms of social life, I would say that it was very privileged and white for the most part. And I was familiar with that, having gone to Harvard-Westlake high school in Los Angeles, but at the same time, there was definitely a yearning I felt all four years for the house parties with people of color that I grew up going to. And that was really my safe space and my comfort zone. So just finding a way to be myself while also code switching as sort of a survival skill, that really guided my college experience.

Sun: Whenever we’re talking about the subject of the Black collegiate experience, that grouping very specifically has a delineation. There’s the HBCU experience, historically black colleges and universities, and then there’s PWI, which is a term that I learned after HBCU. PWI, for those who don’t know: predominantly white institutions. That’s the kind of school you went to. It’s basically everything that isn’t an HBCU. Like, I went to a PWI — although I was actually trying to think, What’s the closest to a historically Asian college or university? And I could only come up with UC Irvine. [Laughter.]

Brown: I love it. [Laughs.]

Sun: The University of Civics and Integras. That’s an in-joke. Anyway, so that’s a very different experience. There’s been a good number of depictions of HBCU life over the years. A Different World was I think for much of the general public their first exposure to really what that was like for those who didn’t attend HBCUs. That was the late ’80s. I know that predates your life, Evan, but that sitcom was really seminal. I mean, Lena Waithe named her production company, Hillman Grad, after the fictional HBCU, Hillman College, in that. School Daze, Spike Lee’s sophomore feature — pun intended — took place on a fictional HBCU. Spike Lee is a very proud HBCU grad, Morehouse College. And then going through movies like Drumline that depicted the proud legacy of that. Before I go on, when you were looking at colleges — I don’t want to imply that every Black high school student thinks, “Should I go to an HBCU?” but just curious about whether or not that was an option for you?

Brown: It was. I did apply to Howard and I got in; I decided to go to Bard instead. I was going to mention this earlier: I think I could have had equally beautiful experiences at both places in different ways and for different reasons. But I was really attracted to Bard’s literature program, which…

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