Caribpress Talks to Teyonah Parris from ‘Dear White People’

Parris is well-known to fans of the television series “Mad Men” as Dawn, Don Draper’s boundary-breaking secretary.

Teyonah as Coco in Dear White People -  Photo by Ashley Nguyen

The title may raise a quizzical brow, but the Justin Simien directed independent drama is a sharp and funny film that takes a hard look at racial identity.

A satirical comedy, it follows four high-achieving black students at a fictional University where a riot breaks out over a popular ‘African American’ themed party thrown by a white fraternity.

Starring Tyler James Williams (“Everybody Hates Chris”), Tessa Thompson (“Veronica Mars”), Teyonah Parris (“Mad Men”), Brandon P. Bell (“Hollywood Heights”) and Dennis Haysbert (“24”), it’s a film that has already garnered praise from audiences for its cute observations on black culture.

Samantha Ofole-Prince caught up with the Julliard-trained Teyonah Parris, who is well-known to fans of the television series “Mad Men” as Dawn, Don Draper’s boundary-breaking secretary to hear more about her character Coco Conners.The Los Angeles Premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' And Legendary Pictures' "42"

The writing and direction are masterful throughout the movie for Justin knows exactly where he is taking the audience. What was the initial attraction for you when you first read the script?
It was daring and Justin really had an opinion. My first exposure to the film was the teaser that he had put out with his tax return money and put on youtube so the world could see and feel what his ideas are. When I saw it, I felt I needed to be a part of it because of what they were saying. It’s beautifully done and it is smart.

What’s the best way to describe your character Coco?
She is someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to fit in with her white classmates.

Do you relate to her issue of racial identity or share any similarities with her?
When I first read the script I thought she is so different from me, but as I dug deeper I saw things that were relatable. As you get to discover her, you understand her desires and why she needs to feel accepted. She feels like wearing a blond wig and blue contacts is what she has to do to get ahead and that is the image the media is telling her is beautiful. There are times in my life when I felt I had to look a certain way to get ahead.

What did you think when you first saw the completed movie?
It’s more amazing that I thought it would be. To see a full feature film with all us fleshed out was exciting. I am inspired and in awe of Justin to have written and directed this. It’s panned out better than I could have hoped for.

Parris can also be seen in the Starz Network series “Survivor’s Remorse,” a dark comedy from Mike O’Malley and producer LeBron James that is set in the world of professional basketball.

Dear White People

“Dear White People” is currently in theaters

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