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Actress Logan Browning Gets Real On Privilege, Stereotypes & Navigating Her Darkest Moments

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There's something about sitting on the rooftop of a Hollywood restaurant that invites good vibes and even better conversation. Case in point, Logan Browning and I are tucked inside of a cabana-turned-seating area, sitting across from a skinny-dip worthy pool having casual girl talk about hair over our respective salads. She compliments my locs, I her beautiful mound of dark curls, which are currently slicked back into a ponytail, our conversation effortlessly flowing from relaxers to U-part wigs—black girl magic style.

But as exciting as it is to talk about our hair woes and glows, today I'm meeting with the 27-year-old actress to talk about something deeper. Sacrifices, success, and fearlessly pursuing a dream even when you don't have all of the same tools as your counterparts.

As one of the faces of the Netflix series Dear White People—a television adaptation of Justin Simien's film of the same name—she's finding a greater purpose through her voice. “What I do with my art and my platform I know needs to be bigger than me," she says, and in the satirical series, she's doing just that.

On camera, Browning plays the role of Samantha White, a biracial student at the prestigious and predominantly white fictional college Winchester University, who boldly addresses issues of racism on her campus radio show. Throughout the season, we watch as Sam and her fellow students of color battle against social injustices, creating a feud between the black student unions and supporters of the white-run magazine Pastiche, while juggling their own individual struggles outside of their fight for respect.

Dear White People

Off camera, Browning is equally as woke, participating in Black Lives Matter marches and being unashamed and unafraid to raise her voice on a number of issues from homelessness to the missing girls of color in Washington, D.C. Putting out that energy, she says, is what drew her to audition for the role of Sam.

“I was so active with marches and social media activism and doing my own research, so when Dear White People the series occurred, it felt divine," she says. “I just loved Sam's voice. I loved the way Justin wrote her, and the things he said, I was feeling personally. To be able to recite them as Sam and express them in the way that she expresses them was so liberating because not all the time do I have all of the answers and verbiage to really share how I feel about certain topics. To play a character who was so eloquent and so powerful, it was the perfect opportunity."

Opportunity didn't come without its share of hard work and sacrifice.Though she already had years of professional acting experience under her belt, Browning admits to having moments where she felt that she couldn't measure up to her counterparts who not only had work experience, but years of dedicated training in their craft.

“The wall that I met was during Hit the Floor," she says, referring to her role in the popular dance drama. "I was given a lot of difficult material or material that I didn't know how to handle so I felt like I didn't have the tools. A lot of my contemporaries their college experience was studying theater or they were part of a theater company so for a while I've felt a tinge of inferiority. I had that complex because I didn't have the same training."

Instead of being detoured, she let it empower her. What she lacked in educational experience earlier in her career she made up for in hustle. In between gigs she would take summer classes at UCLA, watch and study footage of performer's she admired, and developed a deeper appreciation for the art that she fell in love with years ago. Her dedication didn't go unnoticed. Amongst numerous submissions for Dear White People, she immediately caught the eye of the show's director.

“I remember seeing her tapes and being so blown away because her interpretation of that monologue felt so honest, and so Sam, but it also felt so singular," says Simien. “It didn't feel like her version of what Tessa did in the movie, it felt like something totally different and new, and she just knocked it out of the park the moment I laid eyes on her tape. "

Dear White People

Going above and beyond and making sacrifices for her career has always been a part of Browning's story. At 14, the Georgia native left her home in Clayton County and relocated to L.A. where she stayed with her godfather, and later her older brother, to pursue her acting career. She picked up reoccurring roles on popular teen shows such as Summerland and Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, but it was her feature debut as Sasha in Bratz: The Movie that proved her to be a breakout star. “I didn't know that it was a big anything to be honest. I knew it was a big deal and I was excited about it, but the scale of it was kind of lost on me because I was just a kid having fun."

After wrapping up her press tour for the movie in the U.K., Browning wanted to continue her studies in business and enrolled at Vanderbilt University, but only stayed long enough to finish out her freshman year before going back out to L.A. “Me and my dad took a meeting and my agents were saying you just did this film, if you want to continue to build on your career now is the time for you to be back out here."

The move proved to be risky. Though she had the success of an international movie, the writer's strike left her without a job in Hollywood for the next year, during which time she picked up a position at Kaplan Test Prep while taking summer courses in Ancient History at UCLA.

Despite her patience, the opportunities still didn't come knocking, and Browning reluctantly started making plans to move back to Georgia when she got a call from a producer at Tyler Perry Studios for a role they were casting for Meet the Browns. Booking the show, she packed her bags, moved back home, and studied Art History at Clayton State while juggling the set life.

After three years, Browning followed her instinct and once again left Atlanta for L.A., but she wouldn't land her next major role in VH1's Hit the Floor for a couple of years. Browning shares that it's not unusual to go to 10 auditions and only booking one role. It's during these times of uncertainty that she was often challenged and her true character revealed.

“I don't shy away from those darker moments. I'm not afraid to be worried and to self-doubt and to question what I'm doing because in those moments is when you come up with your next move, and a lot of times that next move is a big one."

"I'm completely okay with just easing into it. It's just like a rollercoaster, you just have to ride the wave."

As a seasoned actress, Browning has learned that not getting a callback doesn't necessarily mean you lack talent either, it could simply be that you don't fit the look they need for the role. “I think that's kind of how I was able to navigate that experience, understanding that everyone has a different journey, and that if I'm not getting a role it's not because I'm the worse actor in L.A. Understanding that keeps your spirits and your hopes high."

Having the faith that her parents instilled in her at a young age has also kept her afloat during hard times when the only thing she could rely on was prayer and the conversations from back home that reminded her that giving up was not an option.

“My manager gave me this metaphor once like Tarzan in the jungle. You're swinging from branch to branch and you're holding on to one branch and then you're jumping and reaching from the next one. And usually you're able to hold onto one while you reach for the next, so you always have the safety net. But there are going to be times you have to literally let go of one and there's going to be a moment when you're in the air and you're not holding onto anything before you grab the next one. Just do it, because the picture of you hanging on the other one, it doesn't look good either. You're just swinging in the wind holding on to one branch and then you lose your momentum and then what happens? You're not going anywhere."

"There are going to be times you have to literally let go of one [branch] and there's going to be a moment when you're in the air and you're not holding onto anything before you grab the next one."

Dear White People

In the case of Dear White People, it's her personal life experiences that have enabled her to fully transform into Sam.

She's attended a predominantly white college, where she found a safe haven on campus in the Black Cultural Center, and living in the south, it was impossible for her not to witness the nuances of racism in a city that to this day remains self-segregated.

“Growing up Black in Georgia, whether you are conscious or unconscious, you will experience racism. It's just a fact, and in America it's a fact. I've had personal experiences that I will constantly question if the person did it because of the color of my skin. To be honest, sometimes you don't know. And that's the problematic part because when you grow up as a black person or any minority, you are constantly asking yourself if this particular experience is racism."

Browning also acknowledges that like Sam, being of lighter complexion has afforded her greater privileges than her counterparts of darker complexion. It's something that hasn't been overlooked by viewers who've penned pieces pointing out the not-so-subtleties of Coco's character, played by actress Antoinette Robertson, versus Sam's.

“It's almost scary to me to label anything that I have as privilege," she says, her green eyes softening. “But I do have privileges—class privileges, the list is there. And we both feel caught between worlds of being so pro-black, but at the same time feeling like people may say you don't really get it. You think you get it, but you don't get the whole of it. Which is also true, there are experiences that I will not have because I'm not a certain shade of brown. So in that way, Sam and I, we're in the same shoes riding the same boat and just learning how to influence this ass-backwards society that we're in right now."

Regardless of the side of the color spectrum you stand on, you can't deny that the show, which aired April 28, door for a necessary discussion around racism, to the point that it sparked protests against Netflix in reaction to its 30-second teaser released earlier this year. “Sometimes I wonder if I have enough to say, if I have enough in my back pocket in terms of personal research," confesses Browning. “But all I can do is say that God put me in this position for a very particular reason. I have the tools already, and it's challenging me to continue to do my research, continue to read, be open to being wrong and being willing to be wrong, which is the journey that Sam is on, too."

As her purpose continues to unfold, Browning also sees a greater responsibility in the roles that she takes on and what she represents when the cameras start rolling. “As a black woman I have to be conscious of the roles I play because if I feed into stereotypes then young women who are looking at me see their experiences as limited, they don't see the full span of their potential so now it is important to me. I'm not always going to do politically charged art, and maybe I will do more. I just want to make sure I'm telling full and genuine stories that young girls can see themselves in or escape into."

At 17, Browning's gift granted her the opportunity to experience life on a larger level, and at 27, she's just now beginning to leave a mark through her life experiences. As we wrap up our conversation, I'm reminded that purpose is timeless, and that every experience, whether good or bad, paves the road for where we're going and what we came here to do, and that alone is worth fighting for.

Featured image by Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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