Getting Louder and Prouder — An Exclusive Interview with “The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder” Star, Karen Malina White

For over four decades, actress Karen Malina White has graced our television screens and brought joy to audiences around the world. Today we sat down and discussed her return to television with the Disney+ reboot of the hit animated series, The Proud Family with The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder! We also learned more about her upcoming Netflix series Monster: The Jeffery Dahmer Story, her independent projects, and what advice she has for aspiring actors.

It’s been two years since The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder was announced to the public, when did you first hear that the show was returning? What was your reaction and what made this feel like the right time to come back? 

I think I heard, maybe, in 2019 and I was just so excited. I mean, fans have been asking for it for quite a few years now. It was great to hear that we were coming back. Originally, I didn’t realize what kind of cult favorite the show was going to turn out to be. I remember I think it was in maybe around 2017/2018, I was at University of Texas and working with some students, and introducing myself and as I was running down my resume they were unimpressed. 

It wasn’t until I said I was the voice of Dijonay onThe Proud Family that the whole class was just like, “Oh!”  None of the other stuff mattered. But when I said I was fromThe Proud Family, the class just roared and I was like, “Oh, wow, that was very surprising!” But at that time, they had all grown up on The Proud Family so that was just very pivotal to their upbringing. So it’s so good to be back.

The character of Dijonay Jones is so important to so many people for different reasons, what do you think it is about her that fans have connected to? 

She’s that best friend that tells it like it is. She’s that friend that kind of gets caught up and self-absorbed in her own stuff. She’s a little bit of a gossip, has fun, she’s smart, and likes herself, because she knows who she is. So she’s just one of those fun best friends that everybody has and a lot of people can see themselves reflected in. 

With all of the love, sometimes comes haters too. She doesn’t always get the best rap either among fans, sometimes Dijonay is called a bad friend. Do you think Dijonay is a good friend to Penny?

I think she is. Dijonay looks at Penny as a family member. We love them in spite of themselves and spite of their flaws or their tendencies. I think at the end of the day, no matter what they go through, they truly love each other and support each other. They’re best friends, they are those girlfriends that through thick and thin of it, all the love is there and that’s undeniable. 

What is the biggest difference from the original show to Louder and Prouder? What’s the difference between Dijonay on the original show to now?

I think the difference is that it’s a different time for teenagers. You know, certainly the characters have grown up. We’ll see them a little older and we’ll see them dealing with different things like social media, and how that affects how they feel about themselves. We’ll see them getting into boys and just all of the things that teenagers are dealing with today. So I think that’s going to be the main difference for sure.

I loved all the songs, so there’s going to be some new fresh songs coming this year. Just this year we have, like we did 20 years ago, an unbelievable guest cast, and so it’s so exciting. We have Lizzo coming, and I was so excited about that.

Obviously the world is a much different place since you were in the recording studio for the original, what’s the biggest difference from a “production” standpoint from the original to now?

It’s very similar to how it was done previously. We essentially go into the booth and record our own lines. During the first iteration, every once in a while when we did some group stuff, cheering or singing, we would be in the booth together, but this time we had to keep things safe, so everything was done individually. 

In Monster: The Jeffery Dahmer Story you play Shirley Hughes, the mother of one of Dahmer’s victims. What kind of research did you have to do to prepare for this real life role? Was it difficult stepping into those shoes? 

I watched a lot of the videos from the trial on YouTube. I also read some articles about Shirley and her son, Anthony. She was very vocal before, during, and after the trial. So I had a plethora of information about her and her family. I also had the wonderful opportunity to work with award winning director, Paris Barclay and David McMillan, our beautiful writer of the story. 

So it was great that we’ve seen many stories about Jeffrey Dahmer, but this one is special. Ryan Murphy really wanted to focus on the victims, which were over 90% Black and brown young men. And so it’s really good to hear about these young men and who they really were. We get to see them live these real well-rounded family lives, before they became victims of Jeffrey Dahmer. 

Was it difficult stepping into Shirley’s shoes considering everything she went through? How do you separate those feelings as an actress? 

Because we filmed this last year, we were still a year into the pandemic, a year since the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. So I think emotionally, I was already in that space. The fact that so many people are dying in this country from COVID; there was already a heaviness in my spirit from all of those things going on about social injustice. So I was able to use some of that and be able to channel some of that heaviness into it. 

Certainly as a Black woman who has a brother, and I have nephews and great nephews, it’s hard not to worry about them out in the world. So as always, I was able to bring that to the role as well.

Anthony Hughes was hearing impaired. He was not a hearing person. So just to really try to understand how Shirley felt, always that angst about whether her son would be OK in this world, a hearing world, and a young Black man on top of that. So I could imagine the kind of angst that she lived her life with.  I was very honored to have been able to tell her story.

What do you hope viewers get out of seeing this story retold?

First and foremost, the chance to see the young men whose lives were taken, the possibility of their lives, hopefully get to spotlight on who they were. Hopefully this somehow brings attention to how we can do things differently.

You know, certainly there must have been a lot of mental illness, but certainly we look at things that the police did or didn’t do and how because Jeffrey Dahmer was white, maybe they treated him differently. So I think it’s again, another angle. When the police let him go, he was able to kill one more person. So it gives us another look at how we’re policing our communities and how we’re treating Black and brown victims. So I hope it produces some change.

Switching gears, let’s talk about your work on the Tyler Perry and BET+ series Bruh. Can you tell our audience a little bit about your character? 

So this comes on the third season, and I play the mother to Candice Renée’s character. I’m a typical mother and mother-in-law who just doesn’t mind her own business when she should. She’s a houseguest who you can’t seem to get rid of. She overstays her welcome.

So it’s very exciting, it’s fun. I just so enjoyed working with Tyler Perry. It’s my first time! He just has this generous heart. It’s just wonderful being on his studio, where he’s just honored so many of those that came before us. He hires all these young people of color and giving them the training and opportunity. So it was just a joy. It was a treat, and he treated me like royalty. I had such a fun time.

Tyler Perry Studios are known to be absolute MACHINES, what was it like working on such a fast paced set? 

Well, first I was scared. You hear all the stories about how he shoots so fast and so I was quite nervous. But because I’ve done theater for so long, and I continued to do theater, I use some of those skills. Those kicked in right away because in theater you don’t get to do it over. You don’t get a second take. So those skills served me well working with Tyler, because yes, he moves fast. He shot the whole season in five days. It was like, what? But he’s spoiled me now because you go to another set and it takes 12 hours to shoot a half a page.

What is it about Tyler Perry’s content that you think audiences just can’t get enough of? 

I think it’s… People love to see themselves, they love to see their friends and family that aren’t often depicted on television. It’s just always very inspiring, very encouraging and very uplifting just to see yourself on TV. 

I remember one of my favorite movies, Paper Moon, there was a little Black girl named P.J. Johnson. I think her name was. I’ve never seen her again, but when I saw that movie, I was like, “That’s me.”

Just seeing myself, a dark-skinned young woman, I think that just kind of gave me a light bulb like oh, maybe I could be an actress. There’s nothing like seeing and having that representation and what it does to little Black and brown girls. 

Right before the start of the pandemic as we know it, you stared and tipped your hat behind the scenes on the original project – The Crack’d Nutz Experiment – how did that project come about?

Oh gosh, that was a group of friends. Most of us went to Howard University. We just decided to get together, and let’s just do some sketch comedy. We would sit and write the sketches and we perform them and film some of them. We created it because of the Fringe Festival out here in L.A., Hollywood. So that was kind of the impetus for us creating that group. It was all Howard folks, except one guy. But we had such a ball. It was a blast. And yeah, it was fun times.

Is there a certain type of role that you haven’t had the opportunity to play that you’d like to explore in the future? 

I really want to be a romantic comedy star. I want to be a rom-com star. I think that the niche of an older Black woman as a rom0com star has not been, you know, paved. I think that’s my lane and I want to fill it. But I think I have to write it myself.

What advice would you have for aspiring voice actors and actors in general looking to break into the community? 

I think you know this, the way the industry works now, I think everybody has an opportunity. We all have phones and we all have all the technology to create our own content. I advise people who are interested to just do it. You can’t wait for the phone to ring or somebody, you know…

I mean, look at Issa Rae. She started out creating her own content then got a series on HBO. So I think it has to be that mentality. You build it and somebody will come and find you. So use every tool and just start creating your own content and creating those characters and develop your audience and then the networks will come.

You can catch Karen on The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, now streaming on Disney+ with new episodes releasing every Wednesday! Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story will be released on Netflix later this year.

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