Jasmin Savoy Brown on ‘For The People’ role, colorism, and her #MeToo moment

James DePietro

Jasmin Savoy Brown is equal parts brains and beauty in her role as Alisson Adams on ABC’s latest drama, For The People.

Fans may recognize her from HBO’s The Leftovers and she’s gearing up for a recurring role on Judd Apatow‘s Netflix series, Love.

TheGrio caught up with Jasmin Savoy Brown to discuss what it’s like to try to live up to Shondaland’s reputation, battling racism and colorism, and get the lowdown on her #MeToo moments.

At 24, Brown is confident in her own skin. As a proud lesbian who was raised by her white mother, she learned to carve out her own space at an early age after battling racism as a child.

“I experienced a lot of racism growing up in Springfield, Oregon which is very white and a little naive. It’s not very progressive. There were a lot of comments that I didn’t understand until I was older. Kids making fun of my hair or saying I looked like a monkey. When I was in kindergarten I came home crying because I was the only kid not invited to a birthday party and they said it was because I was brown.

“In high school it would be comments like ‘You’re the whitest black person I know.’ I didn’t know why it filled me with such rage at the time. Now I do. The notion that because I’m awesome and smart and speak well and am articulate makes me not Black is so insulting on so many levels and there are so many layers to it that I’m still working out to this day. It caused a bit of an identity crisis for a while.”

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Now that she’s an adult navigating Hollywood, Brown says the racism is a bit more covert.

“Most of the racism that I have dealt with has been from the white community and the way I have most often experienced colorism has mostly to do with my work. In auditions, I get feedback telling me to be more urban or people saying I should be ‘blacking it up,'” she explained.

“Sometimes I feel guilty that I’m mixed and I’m on TV and I don’t see as many women who are darker than me on TV. It’s a difficult thing to navigate and it’s an important issue. I wish everyone could do whatever they wanted all the time despite their complexion.”

Similar to recent comments by Amandla Stenberg about pulling out of her Black Panther audition, Brown admits she has been conflicted about going after certain roles meant for black women.

“I experienced something similar in a recent audition. I just didn’t feel right. It was a slave story and a very important one but I didn’t think it would make sense for me to do that. It’s a weird thing.”

When it comes to representing for black and biracial women on television, Jasmin Savoy Brown is keenly aware of the responsibility that comes with being on such a visible show.

“I didn’t have representations to look at growing up and if I did, the people who looked like me were portrayed negatively and they were definitely never the love interest. Where I am in my journey right now is keeping my hair natural when I’m on screen because I think it’s important for people of color to see a character who is strong and funny and independent, but also the object of desire while being authentic. Allison is the richest person on the show and she happens to be a black woman which is awesome,” she said.

Although Brown’s character on For The People is a confident, sexy woman, she admits she’s  still working on embracing her beauty. “As a little girl, I felt beautiful because I didn’t know any better. I still feel my most beautiful when I’m bare-faced and completely natural. I want to be as authentic as I can all the time.”

Part of that commitment to authenticity is likely responsible for helping Jasmin Savoy Brown dodge some potentially dangerous situations.

“I’m very fortunate that my #MeToo moments never crossed a line that left me in physical harm. It was all psychological. I have had people threaten my career if I didn’t agree to go to dinner with them. One very successful show runner and producer I met at a birthday party tried to force me to give him my phone number and threatened to ruin me and I said, ‘F—- off,'” she said.

“Fortunately, I was raised by a strong woman and I have strong female mentors in my life and I wasn’t afraid to say no. That isn’t always the case. I am glad for the conversation because it’s the little things that make a work environment not feel comfortable like the comments and the butt taps. I can’t do my best work if I don’t feel compete comfortable. I’m grateful all these women who I admire and support feel they have the space to speak up. It’s incredibly inspiring and emotional watching it unfold and I hope it continues to go in a positive direction toward equality for all of us.”

For The People airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on ABC.

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