Dear White People’s Antoinette Robertson Could Probs Run the World
What if we told you an actress on one of the buzziest new shows is also a former model with a chemistry degree?
Well, meet Antoinette Robertson, who we’re honestly hoping runs for president one day.
Antoinette plays Coco Conners, a college student who’s self-conscious about her natural hair due to years of teasing, on “Dear White People.” But when talking to Antoinette, you get the sense that no one in their right mind would tease her.
In fact, when I asked her if anyone had ever told her she couldn’t follow her acting dreams, she had to think for a sec — people know better than to tell her she can’t do something, she said.
Then, she remembered one: a college boyfriend who hadn’t believed in her. At the time, she was killing it as a chemistry major. She’d taken an acting class to get an easy A (haven’t we all?) and she fell in love with it.
But bae wasn’t into it.
“He told me he was probably the only person who was brave enough to say I couldn’t do something,” she said. “Everyone else knows you don’t go up to me and tell me I can’t do something. Girl, I have a degree in chemistry and I modeled with Ford models. I can do anything.”
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He told her acting was “too hard” (compared to chem? LOL!) and that she couldn’t do it. Here’s the kicker: he was an actor too.
“I was like, ‘But, wait, you’re doing it and I know I’m way smarter than you,'” Antoinette recalled. “But it’s funny. I’m happy I didn’t let someone else’s opinion or someone projecting their own fears onto my life dictate what I could accomplish, because I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Antoinette has accomplished a lot already, and she says she’d never downplay her intellect or her looks just to make people feel comfortable.
“I’m very humble but I’m also very secure and aware of my capabilities,” she said. “Sometimes, people want you to downplay who you are because it makes them feel comfortable. But that’s not living your truth… There are some people who are egotistical, but there’s nothing wrong with being confident. In this industry, there’s no way people are gonna want to put a network behind you and a movement behind you if you don’t believe you.”
Antoinette’s big project right now is her role on “Dear White People,” a show that seems to be airing at just the right time.
People might assume her character is self-loathing and unwoke, but that’s not what Coco’s all about, Antoinette said. She quickly jumped to her character’s defense when we were talking about the show.
“She has assimilated to a degree that she can’t quite understand why people can embrace their natural hair,” Antoinette said. “She has old wounds from when people have been disgusting towards her and her natural appearance.”
Coco is discovering herself in the show and realizing she doesn’t need the veneer she’s developed. And for Antoinette, the way other people perceive black women’s hair has been an IRL annoyance since her days as a model.
“I remember going to photo shoots with my hair natural and them meeting me and saying, ‘We love your hair, it’s so beautiful,’ but when I’d get there they’d burn it into submission,” she said. “Because in their mindset, straighter hair was more glamorous and more beautiful.”
In these situations, it can be daunting for young models to speak up. Not to mention, Antoinette points out that when on-set stylists don’t have experience with black women’s hair, they can do a lot of damage to it.
“When I was younger, it was humiliating and it made me feel inferior,” Antoinette said. “People would talk about me as if I wasn’t there. Or they’d make comments like, ‘Oh, you have a nice curl,’ as if to say people who have kinkier hair than me don’t.”
Now, Antoinette feels empowered to do whatever she wants with her hair. She’s gone through periods of straightening her hair, wearing it natural, wigs, weaves, you name it — and she feels gorgeous either way (rightfully so have you seen her?!).
“I don’t allow the world to impose their eurocentric ideals of beauty on me,” she said. “I can live in my own truth.”
Plus, the stylist on the set of “Dear White People,” Nancy Martinez, respects the integrity of the actors’ hair, Antoinette said.
“She cares if it’s gonna be damaged,” Antoinette said. “I’ve been to other sets where people actually don’t care. They don’t care if you’re bald after that.”
She’s also had tedious experiences with makeup artists who lacked the shades needed to match her skin tone. Some makeup artists walk in with dozen varieties of ivory, and just one darker shade.
“When I was learning how to act I didn’t say, ‘I’m not gonna learn a British accent,'” Antoinette jokes. “I’m not expecting you to learn every dialect, but I’m expecting you to be a master of your craft and know that you’re gonna deal with different people of different skin tones.”
These are all issues women of color have been dealing with since the dawn of show biz, but the greater media has just started acknowledging these setbacks in recent years. Mainstream culture at large seems to finally be gaining more awareness of issues that affect people of color. It made me wonder — could “Dear White People” have been a show five or 10 years ago?
Antoinette didn’t think it could exist the way it is — “with its integrity intact, no punches held” — without Netflix.
“Had we been on network TV, there’d be jokes that would have to be censored or jokes we wouldn’t be able to say,” she said. “When we’re on Netflix, it’s a completely different ball game.”
As a bonus, she thinks people will be more likely to check it out since they can stream it directly into their homes. The show uses satire to deal with serious issues, Antoinette says, and she thinks it could help bridge a lot of racial divides.
“It’s not preachy,” she said. “We can have these conversations that black people and people of color have behind closed doors, but in front of the majority.”
Of course, the show already has its haters in the form of people crying reverse racism. But Antoinette thinks even the ones speaking out against it might be curious enough to check it out — and hopefully, they’ll learn something.
Then there are people on the other end of the spectrum who engage in performative wokeness, seemingly in a constant contest to prove they’re the most open-minded and liberal one on their timeline. Antoinette has noticed this trend too — but she’s okay with it as long as it benefits the greater good..
“I don’t appreciate the fake wokeness in any capacity,” she said. “But then again, who am I to judge? I know what feels honest to me, and [disliking fake wokeness] is my interpretation of someone else’s actions. I don’t know what their intention is, so I’m not gonna judge that.”
And at the end of the day, “their misguided attempts to bring attention to themselves might also bring attention to a cause that needs it,” she said.
Six years have passed since Antoinette’s asshole boyfriend told her she couldn’t act, and she’s killing it now.
“The only time you’ll fail is when you give up,” she said. “There are people who’ve gone at it for so long and then it clicks and happens. We should all be doing things that feed our soul instead of a soul-crushing job we hate. I’d rather struggle to do what I want than do something I hate.”
Photography: Amber Asaly