Quinta Brunson Wants To Save The Internet One Platform At A Time [Interview]
The former BuzzFeed star talks about her new projects, being pals with Issa Rae, the Philadelphia Eagles winning the Super Bowl, and more.
At this point, it’s inexcusable — and downright shameful — to not know who Quinta Brunson is. The 28-year-old managed to turn virality into a skill set while working as a producer and development partner at BuzzFeed Motion Pictures for the past four years before announcing her departure in January of 2018 in pursuit of traditional projects. During her time there, Brunson transferred her hit series Broke to YouTube Red and added showrunner to her already impressive resume. Last year, the comedian was also busy launching a mockumentary on go90 called Up for Adoption followed by a new series titled Quinta Vs. Everything on Facebook Watch.
This year, Brunson will fully crossover when she makes her television debut on The CW’s new drama The End of the World as We Know It, which she is currently filming a pilot for in Vancouver. All the while, she insists on remaining loyal AF to the Internet. Okayplayer recently caught up with Brunson to learn about how she’s been navigating all the lanes in the entertainment industry, what it’s like to run in the same circles as Issa Rae and Donald Glover, and the role her hometown of Philadelphia continues to play in her life.
Okayplayer: How are you feeling about making your big TV debut with The End of the World as We Know It?
Quinta Brunson: I really had to get my bearings together about if I would really be willing to commit to the project and be a part of it should it go to series. It was actually Valentine’s Day—me and my boyfriend were just talking to each other about how much we loved our little lives together and then boom! I kind of had to decide if I really wanted to do it, but I really like the role. The character is really fun and sweet.
OKP: Are there any other new projects that you can tell us about?
QB: The one thing that I can talk about is a book coming out [titled She Memes Well]. I’m really excited about that. I didn’t really want to write a book and then I talked to some people and friends and they told me how beneficial it was not just for their career, but for other people to hear stories. What actually motivated me to get into it was reading Gabrielle Union’s book [We’re Going to Need More Wine]. There were just these little gems in there. I’m not sure if she did it on purpose but that really helped me, and I just thought that I could also provide some stories that would be good for some people.
OKP: Are you still working on your other shows right now?
QB: Yeah, I am! I was really fortunate last year to have this show that I was very passionate about [Quinta Vs. Everything] be so well received by everyone. People really loved it and that meant a lot to me because it’s such a special piece for me. Right now I’m working on season two and where it will exist. It now has multi-platform appeal. It could stay on Facebook Watch, it could also find a home on a streaming platform such as Hulu or Netflix, so right now it’s in a limbo for where it will wind up. I’m really excited to continue working on that. I love the show and I just want to do it for the rest of my life.
I’m working on a movie that I developed which is really great. I’m working on a project right now with Larry Wilmore that I’m really excited about, but can’t really talk much about. I can just say it’s with him.
OKP: I want to rewind and take a moment to reflect on your humble beginnings. You had the first ever viral video on Instagram and from there you went on to become one of BuzzFeed’s youngest development partners and one of the youngest showrunners with your YouTube Red series. What goes through your mind when you think about being a pioneer in the digital space?
QB: In reality, I’m a child of the internet. I was born with it, I love it and I use it every day. I don’t want to abandon it. People want to cross the bridge and leave internet in the past which is so strange. It’s the smartest, strongest tool, but people think that they have to get out of it to be on TV or movie land. They think that that is the next frontier. I don’t feel that way and I never want to feel that way. I think there’s so much value in the internet space. Even when I was doing more traditional projects like this show and movies and stuff—I think the internet is another massive viewing and culture platform cause that’s what it is. I would hope to continue to do things to make that clear for people, that they don’t have to leave the Internet to feel that they’ve become successful.
OKP: There isn’t really a way to master virality, but you’ve always been naturally good at. How?
QB: I get that. I think it’s honesty plus a little bit of calculation, you know what I mean? I do think you have a knack for it. I think the way that Shonda Rhimes has a knack for creating dramas for TV, that’s something I could never do. I look at that and think ‘I could never actually come up with hour-long dramas for TV.’ There are directors out there where I’m like ‘That’s their knack, that’s their gift, that’s what they’re good at.’ That’s how I feel about creating in the internet space. I really do love the space. I want to help the Internet become more of a power player with television.
OKP: As a black creator, how does it feel knowing that you have maintained control and ownership over all of your work from the start?
QB: I find it very important and I think that I’ve had to learn to let go a little bit. Even recently with being in this pilot, that was me not being able to have as much control as I’m used to. But I do think that it was important for me as a creator to maintain that for awhile because I did feel a little bit unique in a lot of different departments. It’s not just like being a black woman. It was humor or loving the internet or, at a certain point in time, the way I wore my hair. I remember when I first started doing videos I had two braids going to the back. Nobody was messing with that, really, without joking on the person. It was amazing when I would see pictures of little girls being like “Wearing my hair like Quinta B.”
It took a lot of protecting my space for a long time in order to grow as myself while I was doing all of these things, especially when it came to sense of humor. It’s really important for me to keep that precious until it’s understood, then I was able to work with people more once they understood that. It’s important for anyone who feels unique. I think people who feel that way often try to conform, but I think they should try to hold on to it for as long as they can.
OKP: Given that every aspect of your career has revolved around the digital world, do you ever feel overwhelmed by it? What are your go-to methods of detachment from the Internet and unplugging from social media?
QB: Ugh, so glad you asked! Twitter was a huge issue for me. I love to use Twitter. I love to tweet. But I don’t always love what happens right after I tweet. My own tweet can get away from me in a way that’s crazy. It could be really, really cool or the absolute worst. It can turn into a whole movement without me realizing or knowing or anything like that. Also, just reading about what everyone else is doing was starting to affect me in a negative way. I was starting to put myself in the comparison space and I don’t want to be there with people I like and appreciate and who I consider friends and colleagues in this industry and whatnot.
Last week I turned off Twitter notifications on my phone. I also took the app off my phone so now I have to go on Safari to access Twitter. It’s so terrible, but I have to trick my mind into making it harder to get access to all of that and it really does work. Having to go into Safari to get into Twitter and not having the tools so you can see trending tweets, I don’t want to see that stuff anymore. I’m honestly really over it. I know it’s the way things go, but I’m over it. It’s too much and it makes me mad sometimes. Twitter is just non-stop nowadays and it didn’t use to be like that.
OKP: Getting away from the vortex that is the Internet, last year Issa Rae elected you for Forbes 30 Under 30 list. How did it feel to earn that accomplishment?
QB: It felt really good. I remember after that I messaged her — I’d only met her once or twice at that point — and I was like “Hey, were you a part of this? I see your name on the website. Did you help make this happen?” She was like “Yeah, girl, me and Jill Soloway. You can do it.” That was really sweet. That is the moment that’s really the moment, uplifting other people and putting them in spaces like that. Issa was a conversation and a network came. I had all of the other stuff on that list, I was sure that, yes, I should be on it, but it’s important how much it takes someone in the room to be able to mention your name and put you on the list. Besides that, it was nice to slap my college in the face [laughs]. Like “Look!”
I am technically a dropout, but a lot of people can’t finish school for various reasons. It makes them feel like failures. I think that it’s important that younger people see every example they can of people who still can do well despite that. That was really important. It was also a motivator, it motivated me to want to be able to live up to that. [Laughs] It’s kind of a projection of wealth. Not exactly what you want to get at that moment, but I was like “Yeah, I want to look back and be like Look what I did.”
OKP: Do you and Issa talk frequently?
QB: We’ve gone to get dinner and stuff. The last time I saw her was at her birthday party actually. Issa really is just cool, she’s like the homie and you can kick it with her. We didn’t really talk about this, but she was enjoying her birthday and she pointed at me before I left and was like “You’re gonna play my little sister one day!” [Laughs] And I was like “I know, Issa!” That’s something we’ve been talking about since we met, working together in the right capacity. We always talk about working together someday, that’s most of what our conversation revolves around. I can’t wait until we actually do and I think that timing is important and I want it to be a really fun project and so does she.
OKP: How have you been feeling since our team won the Super Bowl?
QB: You know what? It really motivated the shit out of me. As soon as that win happened, the next day I was going—I sent my book proposal, I finished up two proposals, I was just on fire. It motivated me so much. I even feel like I got this role because of that too. Everything has just been a rolling ball. [Laughs] For me and all my friends from Philly it has just been such a symbolic win. I feel like Philadelphians always feel like the underdogs and it just gave us the push we needed to really get through the year [laughs].
OKP: Speaking of Philadelphia, I saw that you’re going to be donating prom outfits to girls in high schools in Philly. Where did this idea come from? Why did you want to do this?
QB: I’d been racking my brain for a while of what I could do that I could control that would make me and some other people feel good. I was looking online and reading an article about girls who didn’t have enough money to pay for prom dresses and I was like “That’s a thing I can do.” In Philadelphia, kids have to wear uniforms and they’re expensive. If you come from a very low-income family, the whole prom experience can be a hurt piece. So I was just looking for a small area where I could help take some ease off some people. Last year, I lost a family member who was about to graduate high school and it was just something I wish I could have done for him, get him a tuxedo. It motivated me to get prom dresses but also tuxedos for young men as well.
I’m also so excited to officially say I’m going to be working with ASOS to do this. They have a wonderful prom dress selection so the kids who are being nominated by their schools will be able to pick dresses from their website. I’m also going to give them a little accessory bag with not only accessories for their dresses or tuxes, but also books from authors that I really like, and friends of mine that I think would be really great for them to read.
OKP: You mentioned Donald Glover in the past when we talked about the recent rise of all of these successful black-owned shows like Atlanta. Do you still keep in touch with him?
QB: Donald is a busy, busy man, but I did this campaign for Target and my friend Ibra [Ake] who is also a writer on the show—he’s also a photographer and he did Donald’s album cover. We recently got together and just talked. We just kicked it and talked and it was great to hear about what’s going on with the show. They’re so inspirational to me and I look at everything they have to do and deal with. How they take cautious efforts to preserve the show they want to make, but ultimately it’s nice to talk to him.
I’ve known Ibra at this point now for seven years. It’s wild even watching him. When I first met him it was just on the set of the “Heartbeat” video and at that time—his transition, now he’s writing and he can develop more projects from there. It’s just great to see all these people be appeased. Donald’s brother is now a well sought after writer. His perspective is new and nuanced and no one else can write it, he should be writing it.
I think I also just have this real soft spot in my heart for straight, black men in the industry trying to do anything. My friend Aaron, who is a stylist, is a tall, black man and people aren’t used to him being the styling assistant. They’re not used to that, so when Aaron comes in the room because of the success of all these other people, I’m not saying it necessarily makes it perfect, but it is creating this atmosphere where black people altogether are more welcomed and less scary, but especially straight, black men.
Even the success of Black Panther… Ryan Coogler is the hottest director in the world right now and that’s so fucking tight. He’s a straight, black man who talks like he’s from Oakland. Ryan Coogler is possibly the most inspiring person on Earth to me.
OKP: I just saw Black Panther again at this really bougie movie theater and I was like “This is the viewing experience that I deserve.” I felt like I was in Wakanda.
QB: While Black Panther is amazing — I think about it every day, I think about everything I love about it — but also there is this part of me that’s like it’s sad that it took that long to get that many dark-skinned black people on the screen. That is alone the most fucked up thing. It should not take a movie about a fictional country in Africa to get that many of them. Dark-skinned black people exist, they’re everywhere! Being on both sides of production and casting, it’s really hard for me to often get over it. It’s just one of those areas where you’re like “Oh my god, there are so many blocks in place to keep you from hiring a dark-skinned woman.” People will use Lupita [Nyong’o] as an example, but I’m talking about your regular, everyday dark-skinned black girl. There are so many factors before you can get someone that dark on screen and that to me is the next thing that needs to change. Dark-skinned girls in everyday roles all the time, not once in a blue moon.
OKP: That reminds me of this story I saw the other day on MEFeater about this 3D dark-skinned model that has been blowing up, but it was revealed that she was created by a white man… It’s so weird like why can’t people just hire [Australian model] Duckie Thot and call it a day?
QB: I know! Look at Duckie Thot! [Laughs] It’s crazy. We all know this stuff already…I’m about to sit in this hotel and not be on the internet. Let’s see if I achieve it.
OKP: What were your thoughts on the Oscars? Did you have any predictions for the winners?
QB: I didn’t watch this year, I don’t really care about it. I was super happy when Jordan Peele won for Best Original Screenplay. But I don’t know how I feel about the Oscars. I think that we put a lot of stake on these awards shows like, yes, we want to see people win, but the way people talk about them and stuff really turns me off. If Get Out was important to us, it was important to us.
This is like when SZA didn’t win that Grammy and it sucks, but that doesn’t change how much I love her album and what it means to people. The conversation around awards shows really bothered me this year personally. I just feel that I’ve never really liked watching awards shows. [Laughs] It would be fun to make fun of them, but now it’s not even fun anymore.
OKP: Okayplayer recently featured Zack Fox in its Black History Month column and wants to get your opinion on him as a fellow viral internet comedian. I was cracking up at that image he made of you on Twitter with the “people be gay” quote.
QB: I really appreciate Zack. The first time I met him was at a stand-up show at The Satellite out here in L.A. and we were both booked on it. We were just talking backstage and I didn’t really know about his Twitter or anything like that. We knew some of the same people in music and comedy like Thundercat. He’s just so cool and nice, we had a great talk and I thought “He’s really tight.” I saw his name pop up across my Twitter one day so I started following him and he is a fool. He’s hilarious. Last time we saw each other I had a show out here in L.A. called “Wrong For You” at UCB Sunset and I booked him to do some stand-up.
I really like Zack because he uses the internet and he still goes out and does everything else. He’s still doing stand-up and sketching, he’s working on projects and stuff. He’s one of those people who understands the power of the platform and also he just has fun with it. I do like him too because he pushes the envelope a little bit on Twitter sometimes more than I will and in a different direction. I love watching it. He does wild stuff that throws people off.
Even in making the image of “people be gay,” Zack says gay stuff all the time on Twitter and throws his followers for a loop because I think they’re used to the Twitter people they follow that are men being these hyper-masculine people. These are the exchanges that I like watching with his weird followers…“People be gay” is apparently my new catchphrase and I’m not mad at it.