'Mad Men' Black Secretary Dawn Talks Race

Teyonah Parris discusses the issues her Mad Men character faces.

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Michael Yarish/AMC

The Los Angeles Times spoke to the actress playing the newest character on AMC's Mad Men, secretary Dawn Chambers. Played by Teyonah Parris, Chambers is hired after the fictitious 1960s advertising agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce places a newspaper ad in response to the insensitive actions of a rival company toward African-American civil rights protesters. Executives dropped water-filled bags on picketers, which is historically accurate.

Chambers is introduced in the fourth episode of this season as Draper's secretary and later is caught sleeping in Draper's office by copywriter Peggy Olsen, played by Elisabeth Moss. Too afraid to go home to Harlem because of the riots spreading across the country, Chambers is offered a couch for the night by Olsen, and the women seem to form a tenuous friendship.

From the Los Angeles 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.

LA Times: Will she view Peggy as a confidant in upcoming episodes or is she a bit wary to become too close to the people she works with?

Parris: I can only talk about the two episodes that have happened. The last episode, she just sort of leaves a note. I think Dawn understands that as much as it hurts because she thought she may have found a friend at work, she also understands that this woman will never understand.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.


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