'Dear White People' Cast Talks Embracing Diversity at L.A. Premiere

"At the end of the day, we can talk about what it says, but it's hugely entertaining," Netflix boss Ted Sarandos told THR.
Jonathan Leibson/Courtesy of Netflix
From left: Brandon Black, Barry Jenkins and Antoinette Robertson

Dear White People star Logan Browning was understandably hesitant when stepping into the shoes of college radio star Samantha White, a role originated by Tessa Thompson in the feature film just a few years before. Recreating a character that someone else has built very memorably is daunting enough — let alone a character from a movie that only came out three years ago.

"I was really nervous when I started because I had big shoes to fill," Browning told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet at the premiere of the new Netflix series just hours before it was released worldwide. "Tessa Thompson was phenomenal in the film. It was so specific and special what she did. ... There were moments where I think I felt better about what I was doing, but it probably wasn't until halfway through the season where I asked Justin [Simien; creator], 'Is this OK?' and he said, 'Logan, just trust your instincts. You're fine.' And I got to kind of ease into the role."

Netflix screened the first two episodes at a Thursday night preview held at L.A.'s Downtown Independent theater. Most of the cast and crew of the ensemble comedy series, which follows a group of black students at a mostly white, fictional Ivy League university, were in attendance, including Oscar winner Barry Jenkins, who directed the pivotal fifth episode of the series.

While creator Justin Simien told THR earlier in the week that he didn't necessarily want the series to be educational, lead Antoinette Robertson noted that she wouldn't mind if people took a few lessons from the show.

"I want people to take that we are all way more alike than we are different, and that we should be understanding and tolerant of one another, way more compassionate, and get that we're all trying to figure this out," she said. "Our differences shouldn't be a reason to create a racial divide. We should be embracing each other and understanding that we can learn from each other."

Said star Marque Richardson, "First, I want people to be entertained by it for sure. It is a TV show. Second, I do want people to be educated and actually take whatever they can get from it because there are so many layers to the story. At the root it is identity versus self. We all are so different, and I think the most important thing for me is if people can take away that it's okay to just be yourself, whatever that is. Just be you. You're more than enough and you don't have to be afraid of someone that's different than you."

Netflix boss Ted Sarandos told THR, "First of all, what it has to be is funny. ... At the end of the day, we can talk about what it says, but it's hugely entertaining. That's the key. And if you love this movie or you've never heard of the movie, the show is a wholly unique, different thing."

After the screening, guests walked around the corner (through particularly gusty Santa Ana winds) to Redbird, where they dined on Japanese fried chicken, pork meatballs in Thai curry and other hors d'oeuvres, and sipped on cocktails with themed names (the Tequila Pastiche, for one) — that is, before the back room turned into a sweaty dance party.

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