Why 'Dear White People' Is What America NEEDS.
This needs to be said.....
'Dear White People' is PROFOUND and NEEDED in today's society.
But it’s fair to say Justin Simien’s Netflix adaptation of his 2014 film Dear White People ruffled a few feathers. The mere sight of the trailer was enough to send some people into social media rants about reverse racism, mostly along the lines of Donald Trump’s contention that ABC’s Black-ish – based on its title alone – equalled “racism at the highest level”. The question of what equals racism was at the heart of the film that earned high praise but also accusations of over-simplifying race to fit narrow stereotypes.
Those who struggled with the satire’s black and white portrayal of collegiate life could be satisfied here. Over 10 episodes Simien essentially goes over the same ground the film did (almost shot-for-shot in the first episode), but this time has much more space to explore and each episode focuses on a different character. First there’s Sam, the bi-racial protagonist of the film who Tessa Thompson turned into the charged but conflicted conscience of Winchester college. Here she’s played by Logan Browning, and again her front of uber wokeness isn’t all it’s made out to be. She may be the radio host of a college show which calls out micro aggressions and white privilege, but why doesn’t she tell her best friends she’s got a white boyfriend?
She’s the main tormenter of Pastiche, the satirical Winchester rag that hosts (or does it?) a blackface party that drives much of the show’s action. The thing that makes Dear White People more than a mere second go around is that Simien takes the opportunity to show what’s driving each character to take the positions they have. Lionel, the sexually confused amply afro’d would-be reporter, is back and this time his gradual progression from wallflower to revolt leader is given its own 30-minute treatment. Likewise, Troy the show’s machismo core, is easier to understand once his relationship with his pushy father is given more screen time.
For all of the weighted subject matter the show covers in just 20–30 minute increments—including colorism, the sexual fetishization of black people, police brutality, white allyship (Gabe, played here by John Patrick Amedori, has a much bigger and more crucial role in the series and even gets his own POV episode in the back half of the season), and the internal politics of the elite American educational-industrial complex—Dear White People also bubbles with a lightness and sharp wit that was often missing from the film. Giancarlo Esposito provides the voice of narrator, divulging informative and sometimes saucy commentary and insight into the characters’ inner workings and early beginnings in a way that never feels too distracting. The dynamic between Sam and her best friend, Joelle (Ashley Blaine Featherson), feels warm and lived-in from the very first episode, whether they’re cracking wise about ridiculous diets or planning the next student protest. And moments like when Reggie’s friends kid him for his borderline hotep tendencies demonstrate a show that isn’t afraid to get a little silly and self-critical.
The storyline that best shows why this adaptation works is the development of the friendship between the outspoken Sam, and the more conservative Coco, played by Antoinette Robertson. That relationship, which starts as a friendly co-dependent pact as the two find their feet as freshmen but devolves into mutual anathema, provides the best episode of all. In it Simien manages to cram in issues of black beauty, skin color prejudice, insecurity around social standing, and explore what happens when someone decides to take a stand on a platform where race is central.
The death of a black teenager at the hands of a white police officer fuels the unrest between the two and also serves as a way for Simien to bring the action up to date. He also produces a hilarious parody of Scandal (the not-too subtle Defamation), which is required viewing for the school’s black population. The dialogue too sets the action firmly in 2017, such as when head-in-the-clouds Kelsey says, “I only thought this happened in the 50s or in BuzzFeed articles” after the blackface party. Like one minor character said, "I would never think racism would be in Winchester" With Reggie responding, "Yeah, I though President Obama fixed all that." But have we really progressed from the beginnings of Obama to now? Only time will tell if we need to continue our tirade of "Dear White People" in the coming years.