The Ladies of ‘Dear White People’ Talk Season 2

The cast of Dear White People graced the Paley Center with their presence on Tuesday, June 5th to discuss the critically-acclaimed second season of the Netflix series. From spinning fictional gold out of real-life experiences with racist trolls to navigating the tragedies and triumphs of Winchester’s student body, actress Logan Browning and her costars had plenty to chat about.

Browning plays protagonist Samantha White, who had to deal with a season-long online attack from anonymous troll @AltIvy_W. When asked about the correlations to the real-life racist vitriol faced by black creatives and others with a platform, she pointed to the show’s creator Simien and everything he and his team of writers experienced. “Our writers dealt with a lot of backlash in season one of the show,” she explained. “I just couldn’t believe that people would be so hurtful. At the end of the day we’re all human, we’re all in this together. So I just feel emotionally connected and invested in that.”

On a lighter note, she also got to face off against Tessa Thompson, the originator of Sam. “I think it was really dope of her to come back and do season 2,” she gushed. “I loved to see the two Sams facing off onscreen, and the fact that she’s the character who’s really telling Sam what can happen if she lets this take hold of her entire life. That’s going to be a turning point in Sam’s life.”

Speaking of turning points, at the end of season 2 Sam gave up on Dear White People the radio show. How long does Browning think that can last? “I’m excited to see what the writers will do with it, because everyone’s going to be waiting to see what does that mean? Is she not going to be in the booth? It’s kind of like seeing a giraffe on the street and not in the safari or the zoo. But maybe it’s cool, maybe giraffes are supposed to be on the street. We’ll find out.”

We’ll also find out how Sam’s story changes with her dad out of the picture. “I think it’s really interesting that Sam has blocked the white side of her for so long. It’s sad that she pushed it away, because now her dad’s gone,” Browning pondered. “Now she only has one parent, and that parent is a black parent. Is it going to affect how she sees the world? Is it going to affect what she wants in terms of her relationships? I also think it might soften her up to have just her mom, to have that maternal energy be the sole energy that she has back home supporting her.”

As for the Gabe and Sam relationship? “I think it’s typical of relationships, especially college relationships. They love each other, and I think in every relationship you have to decide: is this the best for me? Is the love enough, is the love everything? Does the relationship make me better, and also what are we doing? Are they a couple? They’re literally back where they started. The whole issue was the fact that they weren’t a couple.” Hopefully we’ll have a season three soon enough to let us know where it goes.

Antoinette Robertson, who plays Sam’s ex-best friend Coco, had some thoughts on her character’s unique take on race relations in the halls of Armstrong-Parker. “I think Coco has realized that she needs [white allies] in order to successful in a system that’s based around whiteness,” she began. “She doesn’t believe that raging against the system is the way that she’s going to go about getting change. She feels like she should be infiltrating the system.” Robertson then acknowledged her team-up with Pastiche EIC Kurt Fletcher at the end of the season. “Without those white allies, she couldn’t have made the power play that she made in CORE. So ultimately it seems as if she’s doing something right.”

Does she like that said partnership with Kurt has crossed over into romance? She admitted that it came as a shock. “When they told me about the Kurt thing, I was so thrown off.” But ultimately, the fling has her seal of approval. “I think Coco having fun for the first time, seeing her giggle and like a boy was a good thing. I feel like she had enough of a traumatic season that she deserved to have a little bit of fun… I like that she just decided to try something new and let someone make her feel good.”

Another welcome surprise was Coco’s friendship with Kelsey, which Robertson hoped to see more of. “I loved that they’re these two girls who have different perspectives, and they’re in the same space. They’re not tearing each other down, but they’re uplifting each other and supporting each other.” Once again, Coco had the opportunity to let someone take care of her. “It was nice to see her let another girl in after her and Sam’s relationship fell apart.” The importance of black female friendships onscreen cannot be denied, and Dear White People made an excellent choice by introducing another one this season.

Another excellent choice was not just the centering of an episode on Coco’s abortion, but also going so far as to explore what life might have been like for her if she had the child. Robertson was especially moved by the decision, saying that, “I need a little bit of time to create the idea of this baby. Coco’s need for unconditional love would have been manifested in that baby, giving unconditional love that she never received from her mother. That’s why creating Penelope was the hardest part for me, because I had to create someone I loved more than anything and then say goodbye to that person so that we could depict both sides of this narrative.” Women who make this choice in real life are also making a sacrifice, and Dear White People managed to explore that difficulty without assigning blame, which is a feat in and of itself.

Finally, Ashley Blaine Featherson talked about her character Joelle coming into the spotlight this season. “It’s funny because it was always the plan,” she explained. “It just added to the anticipation of it, but I was so grateful when I got the episode.”

Joelle didn’t just get some spotlight in her own episode, though. Throughout the season she stepped more and more out of Sam’s shadow. “We have a natural chemistry, nothing is forced,” Featherson declared proudly. “I don’t think Joelle is jealous [of Sam]. I think Joelle is trying to maneuver a situation that she hasn’t maneuvered before.” Joelle’s frustration comes more from Sam not understanding her own relative privilege than from the fact that her best friend is more privileged in the first place, which makes for a very interesting dynamic to explore. “In some ways, Joelle is aspirational for Sam.”

Romance also finally blossomed for Joelle this year, with Reggie (Marque Richardson) finally noticing her in that way, but Featherson wasn’t so sure about the longevity of that relationship. “I think Joelle and Reggie could have worked when it was supposed to work,” she clarified. “Reggie’s dealing with things and going through things now that will make the relationship harder to maneuver.”

Looking towards the show’s inevitable third season, she enthusiastically requested more scenes with Lionel (DeRon Horton). “I think that Lionel is brilliant, I think that DeRon is brilliant. So I need to figure out why their paths are crossing.”

The first two seasons of Dear White People are available to stream on Netflix.