Actor DeRon Horton is quite different from Lionel Higgins, the character he plays in the Netflix comedy series “Dear White People,” but he could relate to some of Lionel’s “social anxiety” and “feeling like an outcast” in certain situations. “I grew up overseas,” he explains. “I was the only black person in my high school for a really long time, so I understood that.” Lionel has a similar challenge as a black student at a predominantly white Ivy League college, and also as a gay student, which makes him a minority even among his black peers. Watch our exclusive video interview with Horton above.
Horton was new to the cast of “Dear White People,” which was previously made as a 2014 feature film before it came to Netflix in 2017 as a continuing series. But Horton admits that he didn’t watch the film when it was originally released. At the time he felt “unity” was of paramount importance, so he was “turned off by the title,” but he realized after finally seeing and understanding the film that his initial snap judgment had been a mistake. “You’ve been taught your whole life never to judge a book by its cover, and in this instance I did that and it turned out to be completely wrong.”
The provocative title also sparked some online backlash before season one of the series even saw the light of day, with some accusing the show of reverse racism. But in reality the show aims to be unifying rather than divisive, with Lionel representing just one of a wide variety of points of view. “It felt like we had a really important job,” says Horton of the show’s impact in the current political climate. And for viewers who can relate to Lionel or other characters on the show, he hopes it’s “something that gives people hope.”
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