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Logan Browning on Why ‘Dear White People’ is ‘PBS For Netflix’

Stepping back into the character of Sam White for the second season of “Dear White People,” Logan Browning says she was concerned about making sure the audience saw the character as a human being and not just “a leader of a movement.”

“Season 1 I was very nervous about taking on Tessa [Thompson]’s role [from the 2014 movie], and I was really nervous about what my Sam is. And my cast was very supportive and they just kept saying, ‘Logan, you’re Sam now,” she tells Variety. “And so in season 2 I think I let that go. But I think that Logan’s ego a little bit wanted people to like Sam more than they did.”

This season, the show — which follows a group of students as they navigate racial bias in college — will delve deeper into those themes, exploring what happens to the African-American population of Armstrong Parker, an all-black dorm, after season 1’s protest and newspaper expose. It will also get more character-specific, particularly when it comes to humanizing Sam.

Not only will the show deal with Sam’s reaction to online trolls who attack her for views expressed on her campus radio show, but also the fallout from the end of her relationship with Gabe (John Patrick Amedori) and her father’s (Robert Curtis Brown) declining health.

“It was really emotional. Sam was in this state of depression for a lot of it,” Browning says.

Browning says she started the season already having seen seven of the 10 scripts, which helped her plan how to seed her character for the emotional journey on which she was about to embark.

“I did map out episodes 1 to 7 in terms of how much she’s relying on Joelle, relying on Gabe, relying on her mom,” she says. “I think that was the story I was there to tell.”

For Browning, the biggest challenge of the season came from the trolling storyline because of the stories she heard from Simien and the writers who had actually received similar messages after season 1 was released. “Imagining a college-age girl getting these kinds of threats really upset me,” she says.

On the flip side, though, one of the most enjoyable moments she had on set was a bottle episode with Amedori in which a chunk of the script was rehearsed and shot in one continuous five minute take. The episode, entitled “Chapter VIII,” finally sees Sam and Gabe dealing with their different perceptions of their relationship, what ultimately went wrong, and how they still feel about each other now.

“I had been dying to do a play, and then we got this script,” she says. “For me, even if it ended up being cut up and not a five-minute take, that was a really satisfying experience.”

What Browning is most proud of with “Dear White People,” though, is that the show isn’t just propelling its characters forward into new storylines, but also taking time to deal with the trauma they experienced in the first season.

“I feel like it’s PBS for Netflix,” she says, calling the storytelling “refreshing, cathartic, and educational.” “Every day you wake up and there’s something new to affect you, but how do you feel about that thing that happened a year ago and who you are because of it? Especially with young people — I don’t think we realize that young people are getting the same news that we are and they’re still developing, so I can’t imagine developing as a high schooler with all of these headlines. So that’s why I do appreciate being a part of this show. It feels like a place for people to connect to. We’re all dealing with this.”

“Dear White People” season 2 (which is being called “Dear White People Vol. 2″) is available to stream May 4 on Netflix.

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