Some critics have blasted NBC’s new series The Playboy Club for glorifying a time and place that objectified and exploited women, but Naturi Naughton doesn’t see it that way. In fact, as a woman of color, she sees her character, Brenda, a Bunny at the Chicago club, as an empowered woman and a pioneer in her time.
“She is very ambitious and not afraid to go forward as a Black woman in the ‘60s. She could be subdued, afraid of life, because of the pressures at the time of trying to be equal in a world where you know that the color of your skin is how you’re judged. But she feels like the world is an open place. She shows how she's just as good as everyone else. She wants to step into this world and say, 'No matter what color I am, where I'm from, I'm going to make a difference and I'm gonna do something,'” says Naughton.
It’s not enough for Brenda to be one of the first “chocolate Bunnies,” however: “She wants to be the first Black centerfold. She wants more out of life. She knows that she’s up against quite a bit in the world but she’s not willing to take no for an answer.” That said, Naughton herself has no aspirations to bare it all in the pages of Playboy. “I would do a character-driven type of shoot in the Bunny costume but nude, that’s just not me,” she explains.
That famous costume has taken some getting used to. “You cannot breathe,” Naughton confides. “Every time I put it on I’m like, ‘Did this get tighter, or is it just me?’ But I love the way I feel when I put it on. It’s so iconic that you feel like, ‘I’ve got to do this justice.’”
Naughton did research for the role by reading books, watching documentaries and talking to former Bunnies and her parents, who “grew up in the ‘60s and gave me tons of insight.” Walking onto the club-interior set for the first time made the milieu real. “You walk in and you feel like you’re in this fantasy. It’s like Disney World for adults."
Also a singer who starred in Fame and played Lil’ Kim in Notorious, she’s thrilled that she’ll get to sing in the show. “I know it’s in the first five episodes.”
On the big screen, she’ll appear in the independent film Highland Park, due out later this year, as another ambitious character. She plays a young woman who wants to break out of her poverty-stricken Detroit neighborhood to be on Broadway.