Netflix's Dear White People sparks conversation about racism
When Netflix announced its production of Dear White People, it was hard to imagine a more perfect timing or name for a project of the sort.
Released on April 28, the Netflix series is based on the 2014 controversial film of the same title.
The transition from one medium to another was smooth and efficient, as more issues are now allowed to be explored without being sacrificed for the sake of screen time.
The story follows a group of African-American students and their struggle at an all-white institution for higher education.
It takes place at the imaginary Ivy League college Winchester University, where a satirical magazine Pastiche, run by white men, hosts a blackface party to protest black student Samantha White’s controversial campus radio show “Dear White People,” where she points out the many racist occurrences on campus.
The party results in a major crisis, with the rest of the show following the characters in their fight against systematic racism that is evidently pointed out through various scenes.
The range of characters is impressive. White, played by Logan Browning, is the voice of protest and is the driving force behind all the events that take place in the series.
The ambitious and picture-perfect Troy Fairbanks, played by Brandon Bell, is the student president and son of a controlling dean.
Troy’s girlfriend Coco Conners, played by Antoinette Robertson, is an apolitical A+ student who is more willing to assimilate than to fight.
The young and sexually confused journalist Lionel Higgins, played by DeRon Horton, is responsible for all the major plot twists with his bold articles and controversial findings.
Each major character is suffering from an identity crisis, where they must make uncomfortable decisions that usually involve their race and their position in the society, adding dimension to every one of them.
This allows the actors to play their roles in a way that is more relatable and conventional to the audiences.
The series consists of 10 episodes. Each of them, besides the finale, focuses on a separate character and his or her perspective on the story.
This brilliant writing decision allows versatility of the narration and creates several dimensions to a story that brings up issues in a truly complex fashion.
The title of the series has received backlash even before it was released, as many people expected the show to be a never-ending tirade against the white race.
Although the criticism of white liberalism is present, the show does much more than explore the relevant discrimination of whites against blacks.
It focuses more on the issues ,including black-on-black competition, the struggle of interracial relationships and college corruption—all issues that are typically not raised in the mainstream media when talking about racism.
The one issue that this series fails to acknowledge is the homophobia in the black community.
Horton’s character is a gay man who is crucial to the plot and has multiple episodes dedicated to him.
The show depicts his self-discovery and coming out in a very casual manner. However, Dear White People is about racial injustices, and sugarcoating his struggle as a young gay man of color takes away from the overall point of the show, as it does not in any way reflect what is actually happening in the world to the black LGBT youth.
But one step at a time and hopefully season two will concentrate on this topic more.
The creator of the original film, Justin Simien, returned to write and direct three episodes of the series. Netflix also hired several talented directors, including Barry Jenkins, the director and writer of the Oscar-winning Best Picture film, Moonlight.
Jenkins directed the fifth episode, which features police brutality and acts as a catalyst for the remaining events. Several actors including Bell, Marque Richardson and Ashley Blaine Featherson reprise their roles from the film.
What makes this show unique is its humor. This is a satirical piece, which allows for the overall tone of seriousness to be absorbed better. Not surprisingly, the satirical way of explaining the racial injustice ends up being more efficient than the usual didactic fashion.
In a country where political correctness became a polarizing wall, portraying interracial and intraracial relations with jokes that are not politically correct proves to be not just funny, but also educational.
Not all jokes land well, but there are still some knee slappers that will trail in the back of one’s mind until the next presidential election.
But the show does fulfill its underlying purpose. Sam’s radio show is targeted toward everybody, and the least thing one can do it is listen.
Dear White People encourages people to listen and acknowledge that racism not only exists, but it is prospering in many ways that as a society we sometimes are just not conscious of it.
The way this series sparks the conversation is innovative and allows for people not just to listen, but to engage as well.