Things Are Changing: Mad Men Welcomes Its First Black Character

April 13, 2012  |  

After a 17-month hiatus, the show with a cult following is back and and has introduced its first non-white character. Meet Dawn Chambers, protagonist Don Draper’s new secretary and the fictional Sterling Cooper’s first black employee.

As the show is set in the 1960’s during race riots and protests, the fictional advertising company jokingly broadcasted itself as an equal opportunity employer. The result was the hiring of Dawn Chambers, played by Teyonnah Parris. The LA Times sat down with Parris to find out how she felt about her role on the show and what’s in store for the fifth season

“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,” Parris said to the LA Times.

Parris relayed that even in the audition, not much was released about her character. Creative director and executive producer Matt Weiner is so secretive about the script, Parris barely knows anything about the character she portrays.

“I didn’t come in expecting to change everything over night. I was OK with whatever they were giving me because I really had no clue. I wasn’t expecting much because they weren’t giving me much,” she said.

Parris first had to do a bit of catch up. As she says she is already familiar with the time period of the show, researching for the role focused more on catching up on Mad Man episodes. She admits that she was not up-to-date on all four seasons, and now as a member of the Mad Men cast, she is slowly becoming acquainted with its characters, including her own.

“You know, I didn’t even know how I got there. So when I watched the first episode of the season, I was watching with everybody else and I was like, ‘Oh, this is how Dawn gets into the office.’ I had no clue. I find things out with everyone too,” she said.

Viewers of the show can expect Dawn to have a bit of a rough transition into a majority white world, and Don Draper doesn’t immediately embrace his new African American assistant. But behind the scenes, Parris discloses that she is adjusting just fine.

You don’t see it on camera, but I felt like it happened off-camera as far as him welcoming me into this world,” Parris tells the LA Times of her introduction with the main character, played by actor Jon Hamm. “That experience happened with the real us, more than maybe it did between Don and Dawn.”

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  • rosiepowell2000

    Dawn has been on the show for a while and audiences still know nothing about her.  Yet, more have been made of two other recent characters – Megan Draper and Michael Ginsberg.

    Dawn has become another Carla – a bland, minority character designed to stave off criticism of racism.

    • Bruce

      Thank you. The truth of the matter is the producers of this show wouldn’t hire a great
      black actor under circumstance in the world. You don’t write good roles, don’t worry
      about hiring great black actors!

    • bruce

      Thank you. That’s the holy truth!

  • Mystique

    I think I will start back watching the show now.

  • Barbara

    You are a Prostituton recruitment ring!   Stop posting on this site!!!

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  • eric mcdaniel

    MadameNoire is consistently lazy because your contributors are consistently lazy. You must not screen who you let represent you at all. There are a lot of errors, grammatical and factual, in many stories here. This woman is not the first black character on Mad Men. Carla ( the Draper’s housekeeper) played by Deborah Lacey- also known as the girl who got pregnant in The Five Heartbeats- played her speaking role for 3 seasons. She appeared in, by my count, 15 episodes. While not integral to the story line she is black and did play a role in two plot points. Let’s strive to be better MN contributors.

    • Heather

      Also, Naturi Naughton appeared briefly as a playboy bunny and Layne’s girlfriend. The elevator operator who was black was also featured fairly regularly. 

      • eric mcdaniel

        I was only talking about blacks that spoke in more than one episode. But true Naturi, the old black man in the very first scene of the entire show, the one copywriters girlfriend in season 2. So, this isn’t the first black on the show. 

  • Katie

    Odd. Why wouldn’t they tell her what and who she is? How is she supposed to get into character? Are they just using her as a black woman and not an actor? Just seems a bit troubling how they’re going about it. I doubt any of the other characters are being kept in the dark about their own characters.


    As much as I love the show Mad Men, I sure as hell don’t look for validation when I see black characters on the show.  As sophisticated as it is, Mad Men always makes black characters seem a bit off. And damn, they show some terrible wigs on the BW.

  • kickash

    mad men is a great show. maybe now people can stop complaining that there are no black characters in the office. i mean what did you expect? it was the 1960s. i feel they are progressing well with the time period and this was a great time to bring a black employee into the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office. She’s not the first black character on the show though, just the first one to be working at SCDP. It’s also just great to see black actors with rich challenging roles and not on some Tyler Perry mess.

  • ElvisWasAHero2Most

    First off, best show on television hands down… the rich story, extensive character development, award winning cast and production, plus I happen to be a sucker for anything set in the 50s/60s.  As Bill Mauer recently said, it’s like watching a great novel.

    Why can’t black people ever do something as intelligent as this!?  Damn you Tyler Perry

    • Bruce

      I think the cast is average at best thank you very much. There’s a ton of great black actors on TV that you probably won’t notice like the Emmys.

  • Keisha

    I love Mad Men. As the show goes deeper into the 1960s it’s going to get more interesting. The show reminds me of how grateful I am to be a black female right now with more opportunities than back then. Even though there is still a long way to go.

    • Dollielintoniii

      WHAT? This statement is one of the most ignorant comments I’ve ever read in my life. Regardless of the fact that you don’t like, love, or support black men you have to be bitter black woman with mental issues to even think this way. I truly feel sorry for you, because one day this comment is going to come back to haunt you. Krama is a mother.