Beyond the ‘Sweet Life: Los Angeles,’ Tylynn Burns wants a legacy of her own
Tylynn Burns, one of the stars of Issa Rae’s “Sweet Life: Los Angeles,” is born and raised in the City of Angels. And at 26 years old, she is intent on creating her own legacy — and giving back to her family, particularly her father, who has been incarcerated since she was 4 months old.
“Generational wealth is just not really a thing that much in the Black community,” Burns said in an interview with The Times, “so for me, I’ll probably be the first one to provide resources and funding for people in my family. That’s super, super pivotal and important to me.”
“The story about her dad did not come out until we had spoken to her. I remember the question I asked. I said, ‘Can you please tell me why you’re doing this? What drives you?’" recalled Leola Westbrook, showrunner on Rae’s first unscripted series, over Zoom.
“She said, ‘I’m about legacy building, I want to build a legacy for myself,’” Westbrook said. “‘Because when my dad gets out of jail in 2029, I want to provide for him in the same way he provided for me, which caused him to go to jail in the first place.’”
Burns, a 2017 alumna of the University of Oregon with a degree in advertising and public relations, is the founder of a boutique event-planning agency, House Party Creative. She’s also part of a friend group of 20-something Black Angelenos whom we get to see navigate life, love and careers Thursdays on HBO Max.
It’s all happening while fans wait impatiently for the fifth and final season of Rae’s breakout series “Insecure.”
Inspired by BET’s “Baldwin Hills” and reminiscent of Rae’s own friends, “Sweet Life” offers a nuanced inside look at Black adulthood, friendship and family.
Upon learning about Rae’s forthcoming series, Jerrold Smith II and Jordan Bentley reached out to Burns, asking if they could list her as a reference during the application process. While she happily agreed and completed a generic interview, producers saw something in Burns, requesting that she redo her casting tape. Now, her longtime friends-turned-castmates are embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — and Burns is on her way to creating her own future, one that puts Black Los Angeles on the map.
Issa Rae thanks HBO and fans for their support of the “complete story” being told by “Insecure.” The network just announced the show’s fifth and final season.
In a recent Zoom interview with The Times, Burns discussed her transition into the newfound spotlight and redefining Black excellence, her appreciation for her friends, family and Los Angeles, and the future she wants to create for herself.
Did you watch series such as “Baldwin Hills,” “Laguna Beach” or “The Hills” growing up? Could you relate to any members of those casts?
Tylynn Burns: I was definitely a “Baldwin Hills” girl. ... I related to Gerren the most. I think it was different because the Baldwin Hills that they showed at that time ... they were a little older than me, they kind of came from affluent backgrounds. I related to them because they were young Black people, but I think our show is down-to-earth people who are on the rise and don’t come from super-rich families. We do come from privileged situations, but a lot of us have gone through things that I don’t think most people have gone through.
What compelled you to share your father’s story and your connection to him with a national audience?
TB: This whole experience is bigger than me, so sharing that was [more] to connect with the audience that could relate to me. I didn’t really think twice about sharing that, honestly, because I’ve grown up with that all my life. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed or anything. It was just really easy for me to share that part of me and to also connect with my dad at a different level; we got closer in the process because I had to talk to him more and just understand his story.
What do you hope people glean from the show and your story?
TB: I want people to understand that Black people and our experiences are super dynamic. The show glorifies the pretty parts of being young, Black and successful, but there are a lot of things that we’ve gone through, that we’re still going through, that might not be showcased. Have an open mind and an open heart. We don’t always get it right, especially not in the TV world and on camera. I just really want the audience to be sympathetic and really empathetic to the Black people who are putting their stories, their characters, their morals on the line for everyone’s entertainment.
How would you describe yourself and your role in the friend group?
TB: I’m more of the nucleus. On the show, it seems like I’m pretty motherly, but my friends take care of me a lot. Emotionally, my friends are my backbone. When it comes down to [maintaining] the balance and structure, making sure that we are as close as we can be at all times, and have clear and open communication, that’s the kind of friend that I am. I always want to have a good time, so I’m not about to let some insignificant moment tarnish that or our relationships. We’re a work in progress as individuals and as a friend group.
What does it mean to you to be on a show that showcases Black L.A. and spotlights your home?
TB: A lot of people don’t know what Black L.A. looks like. I’ve spoken about it before, how you can go to places like D.C., New York and Atlanta and all of the Black people are at the forefront, super accessible. Unless you really know core groups of Black L.A. people, you’re not really going to get integrated into that space. There is a very strong Black culture here and we’re not all superficial. We’re not all Hollywood.
There’s another side that people don’t see where we’re still grinding, we’re still victims of redlining and we’re still working through a lot of Black trauma that was placed on us. The show does a good job at showcasing Black luxury and what that looks like. But I also don’t want the public to think that, to us, Black excellence is in proximity to whiteness. We have our own view on what that means and we’re not trying to just be rich and famous. We’re really trying to, like, set ourselves apart as a culture.
What is the legacy that you hope to create for yourself?
TB: I feel like it changes so much. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly I’m trying to do in this world and what type of impact that I’m trying to leave. I would say for my legacy right now, it’s financial freedom for me, my mom and my grandma. Once I get that solidified, I think I can focus on bigger and better things.
What does financial freedom mean to you, and why is it so important?
TB: The systems put in place for Black people have really limited our ability to have access to financial freedom, and a lot of our parents and grandparents were able to provide to us in order to have these dreams come to life. They set a foundation, but everything that we do is coming out of our pocket. Generational wealth is just not really a thing that much in the Black community, so for me, I’ll probably be the first one in my family to provide resources and funding for people in my family. That’s super, super pivotal and important to me.
What advice you would give to younger Black folks?
TB: Twenty-five is the halfway mark to 30, so people think that they’re supposed to have these grand plans and have it all figured out. But ... we haven’t been adults for that long ... so having it all figured out just doesn’t make sense. My advice is to just go with the flow and allow the universe to take you places that you want to go. If you feel that you’re out of place, you’re probably out of place; if you feel like you’re in the right place, you’re going to know that you’re in the right place. It is just putting trust in yourself and not other people and just working hard. Not working hard in comparison to how someone else is working hard, but working hard for how you work hard.
Six episodes of Season 1 of “Sweet Life: Los Angeles” are streaming now on HBO Max, with three more to come. The reunion special drops Sept. 9.
‘Sweet Life: Los Angeles’
Where: HBO Max
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)
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