The LA Times has an interview with Teyonnah Parris, the actress who plays Don Draper’s new secretary and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s first black employee on the hit television series “Mad Men.”
It’s a big deal because Mad Men is one of TV’s most popular shows and hasn’t really dealt with race explicitly yet. Parris says there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with the role too.
From the LA Times:
LA Times: A lot of people were concerned that Dawn was simply window dressing, like, ‘look, the token black character that will signal the changing times.’ And we sort of got to know a little bit more about her in last week’s episode, but it was mostly through the eyes of Peggy. What are your thoughts on that?
Parris: Um, I think Peggy is the perfect person for us to learn about Dawn. She’s the woman on the show who is more open-minded, feminist — she doesn’t even know she’s a feminist, but that kind of air about herself. I thought it was pretty cool to see her mind-set and her beliefs and these things that she stands for sort of tested and see how that plays out for Peggy — because, you know, we hear her talk about how her boyfriend is covering the riots in Chicago and all kinds of things. And then we have this heart-to-heart and at the end there’s the purse thing. The subconscious judgments that her character harbors and probably didn’t even realize it.
I realize a lot of responsibility comes with this role. it’s the first time the show has had an African American in the office, but I try not to let it overwhelm me.
The series, currently in it’s fifth season, hasn’t really dealt with race explicitly until recently. The season premiere this season included a storyline centered around a civil rights protests outside the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office that was taken right out of the archives of the NY Times.
“Mad Men’s a period drama from the perspective of affluent white men, so it makes sense that they’ve only tip-toed toward race up until now,” said Jamilah King, Colorlines.com’s news editor. “Still, it’s one the of the most popular shows on TV, so the fact that putting the civil rights movement front and center in the show’s script means a lot — especially to gauge how far we have, and haven’t, come since then.”