5:11 PM PDT 4/17/2019 by Kirsten Chuba
Brené Brown has written best-selling books, given TED Talks with millions of views, and become a leadership guru to Oprah Winfrey and Melinda Gates. Now, she has her sights set on conquering Netflix, with her first special, A Call to Courage, bowing Friday.
Ahead of her special's release, Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, on Tuesday sat down with Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox at Netflix's Los Angeles headquarters to talk life, politics, trauma and the #MeToo movement. Cox is among Brown's legion of superfans, and admitted she was unintentionally at the show that Brown recorded for the streaming service. "I had no idea they were shooting a Netflix special, I just happened to be there because that's how I stan," the actress said.
Brown, who has written nine books on courage, shame, vulnerability and compassion, admitted that, at times, it's been a difficult adjustment to a sudden life in the Hollywood spotlight. "I'm a research professor, and I had a photo shoot today on the Netflix roof. They don't teach that shit in my doctorate program," joked Brown, saying she struggles with her own insecurity surrounding her newfound fame. "I have the too-big-for-your-britches, who-do-you-think-you-are thing going on right now a lot."
Much of the 30-minute conversation between the two centered on the current political climate and the volatile divide between liberals and conservatives, with Brown arguing that the use of shame and humiliation are tools of oppression, not tools of social justice, and are being used to push the two sides even further apart.
"I will not participate in the dehumanization of people, regardless if their ideology is completely in opposition to mine; I'm not going to participate in it, because we have lost sight of what is happening," she told Cox and the small audience. "When we have a leader who is saying, 'These aren't refugees, these are animals,' when we have people that fight that back that say, 'You're a pig,' we have devolved into the type of language and dehumanization that has been the beginning of every genocide in recorded history."
As for how to fight against harassment, inequality and racism in the age of Trump, Brown said that it is important to remember that there is no neutrality anymore, and people's actions only either help create a new system or enable the old one. "The #MeToo movement, Time's Up movement, Black Lives Matter, Trans Lives Matters, why do we need those movements?" she asked. "Because in the hearts and minds of many people, those lives have been pushed out of the circle of humanization — they've been pushed out, and we either participate in dismantling the systems that have done that or we are propping them up."
The two also spoke about the importance of language when Cox pointed out that many of Brown's teachings describe men and women but apply to gender non-binary people as well. Brown said she first noticed that mistake when recording an audiobook and added, "As I go back and rewrite and update books, I'm being very mindful because for me, it's not about political correctness. As long as language is being used to beat up anybody in the schoolyard, I'm not for it."
Cox, who is trans, spoke in turn about the fight liberals and conservatives have over acceptance of the transgender community, and said that at the base level, the two sides are having completely different conversations and are not agreeing on the same set of facts. "There's so much resistance to the world changing, and the world changing is that for a long time trans people were in the shadows and now we're saying we don't want to be in the shadows anymore, we want to exist in the light," she said. "And then people are freaking out and banning us from the military and all of the things we're doing."
Throughout the talk, Cox was open about her deep love and knowledge for Brown's work, admitting that she used to read specific passages of her book every day and would fall asleep listening to her speeches. At times, Cox recited long passages of Brown's books from memory, much to the professor's surprise.
"It's the most amazing experience to hear someone that I love and respect and look up to so much, you really know it better than me!" Brown joked. "I have sweaty palms, I'm like, 'Don't ask me any questions, you know it yourself!'"