While the writers on the second season of Netflix’s Dear White People knew they were being provocative by tapping into conversations about abortion and racist attacks online, they did not anticipate how on the nose they would be by giving Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok) a pivotal cameo as a black conservative who’s marketed herself as a protector of free speech.
According to Dear White People creator Justin Simien, Thompson’s character Rikki Carter first started with the idea to bring a student speaker to the Winchester campus this season, and he thought it’d be especially interesting if the speaker was a person of color/model-minority type.
“This was before I knew Kanye was gonna say what he said, this is before I knew Candace Owens existed,” Simien told BuzzFeed News at Netflix’s recent FYSee event in Los Angeles.
Simien is, of course, referring to recent events like Kanye West’s TMZ Live interview where he sat with Owens, a conservative YouTuber, and talked about how black people are still in the plantation mindset and need to start thinking more freely.
After all the success they had with the film version of Dear White People, Simien was eager to incorporate his friend Thompson, who played Sam White in the film version of Dear White People, into the show in a way that would blow people’s minds. One night before bed, a monologue emerged in Simien’s head that he transcribed and read back to himself in the morning to know if it was good. When he and his writers confirmed that it was, Simien knew the second season of the show had to find a way narratively to get to that monologue, and that Thompson had to be the one to deliver it.
“I’m not sure how we get there. I’m not sure if she’s available. I don’t know if we can work this out, but it has to all lead to this,” he said.
That monologue ended up being the one Rikki Carter gives Sam White in the season finale right before Carter is about to give her speech to the Winchester campus, where she reveals that her conservative crusade is all an act she’s monetized, just like how she anticipates White will make money off her Dear White People radio show after graduation. Simien says part of the reason he wrote the big reveal for Carter is because it’s hard “to reconcile that a Candace Owens goes home and believes everything that she just said.”
Simien described the monologue scene as a “glitch-in-the-Matrix type moment in Sam’s reality.” The impetus for the scene is the notion that modern-day public figures have to be a package or brand, “and the thing about a brand is that a brand doesn’t change over time, but people change every day,” he added.
Carter’s monologue is what finally pushes White to ask herself if she is defined by more than just her anger, and if the anger is actually something leading her to liberation, or trapping her in the permanent victimhood her critics claim she’s in.
Logan Browning, who plays the TV version of Sam White, told BuzzFeed News that working with Simien and “OG Sam” Thompson was a dream moment — even if Thompson was on set much too fast for them to compare notes on playing the role. Browning felt the love and support from Thompson when she took over playing White, but they did not meet until they saw each other at a screening of Coming to America shortly before filming scenes together.
Browning says she felt it helped that the first time she met Thompson was outside a work setting, “especially because she was playing this character that was, you know, antagonizing mine, so I love that I got to meet her first, and know that, ‘Yeah, this is just a role.’”
Browning has also really enjoyed the fan reaction to their pivotal scene.
“I love everyone online sending the Spider-Man memes, that’s my favorite, when they send the two Spider-Mans meeting,” she said.