Mad Men’s Token Black Character?: Teyonah Parris Becomes First African American in Ad Office

Parris talks how she got the role and why it's an important step in show's success

Actress Teyonah Parris plays Dawn Chambers, the first black character on TV's Mad Men. (Photo: File)

After a 17-month hiatus, Mad Men returned for it’s fifth season with a refreshing addition to the cast and plot, Teyonah Parris, who plays the show’s first black character, Dawn Chambers. Of course, as was prominent during the 1960s, Dawn is a secretary in the ad office in which the show is set, reflecting a realistic lack of diversity in the industry during the time.

The Los Angeles Times talked with Parris about how she got the role, why she thought it was a boss move and the question of being the “token black actor” on a critically acclaimed show criticized for lack of diversity in actors and characters.

Los Angeles 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.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times …