Written by Alma Hill
The newest binge craze on Netflix is the politically incorrect, (or maybe hyper-correct, who knows anymore), Dear White People. Based off of the 2014 movie that you pretended to see, the transformation of this plot from the big screen to the small one, not only suits this concept, it improves it, which is rare for this type of transition.
Admittedly, at the time of this write-up, I am only halfway through the series, but considering the fact that I started this morning, and have been sneaking the show in 10 minute spurts during my shift at work, and the fact that I don’t even binge watch my cat, should give you a clue as to how enticing this series is.
Like any show that takes aim at race relations, Dear White People has its cringeworthy moments. It contributes significantly to the death of the word “woke” (R.I.P Woke, 2015-2016), and does lean heavily on stereotypes and character tropes to get the story across. Despite these tidbits, you soon realize that these caricatures are essential to the telling of a really important story, that most people in our country are too scared to broach otherwise.
There are a few hard truths that are confronted in Dear White People that make it essential watching for EVERYONE. Yes. EVERYONE. Black, White, Woke, Sheeple, and everyone who falls between the cracks should watch this series like yesterday. It’s earned a coveted 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is so rare, even Will Smith can’t claim that. (His highest is Men In Black, which got a 92%)
Without offering spoilers, it touches on issues that we ALL face, and puts our behaviors under a microscope, exposing us not only to the flaws of prejudice, but it also makes us reflect on the fact that we commit against ourselves.
What it means to be black is the central theme of the show which makes it worth watching for other races too. The variety of personalities in the primarily black cast is refreshing and relatable to a MORE diverse range of realistic black “personas”, so to speak. That’s what makes it so tragic, and raw as you watch these characters struggle with their blackness. What is black enough? What does that mean? And how are you perceived, not only by white people but also, within your own community? The casting of racially ambiguous Logan Browning in the lead role as Sam White, a young woman who is biracial (not Rashida Jones biracial, Tracee Ellis Ross biracial) was a brilliant choice, and a very very relevant one.
It also exposes the transgressions of liberal white people too, and their self-perception of their own innocence in their roles when it comes to perpetuating racism. The casual use of the N-word is a pivotal point in Ep 5. Watching this episode will force your best Becky to really understand a- how flimsy her arguments are when rapping THAT Ludacris album and b-understand the context of the use of the word, casual or not.
The show goes deep in this particular episode, with one of the supporting characters, Reggie, finding his life in the hands of an over eager campus security officer who inexplicably brought a gun to a break up a campus party. The layers of interpretation overlap in a way that makes the watcher consider “What would I have done?”
There’s the “innocent” white friend who doesn’t like to be “censored” for using the N-word who feels guilt at the escalation, which was really caused by his refusal to apologize or back down, despite Reggie being uncomfortable. There’s the party of on-lookers who whipped out their cell phones, hashtags at the ready, their empathy extending only as far as their iPhone screens.
Then there’s Reggie. A proud black man, intelligent, with an agenda to right the wrongs of the past armed library of James Baldwin, who found himself stripped bare, humiliated and scared, staring down the barrel of a gun, his life on trial for all to see. His crime? Not providing his ID, when asked initially.
How many of us could have been Reggie? How many of us are the non-black friend who wants to “freely” rap, without the weight of racism being thrown in your face. (Note: If we can’t avoid it everyday, you and Lil Wayne can chill for 4 min and 27 sec) How many of us want to throw up a camera and project our sympathy without really caring in a meaningful sense?
Episode 5 broke me. My breath trembled with Sam and Joelle, and I wondered about the future of my own two children. There are no safe spaces for black men, and episode 5 puts this hard truth front and center. If non-compliance, a crime as simple as not feeling the need to prove I’m exactly who I say I am, is worthy of death, then what is a Black life really worth? Is it worth a student ID? Is it worthy a drinking game partner? Is it even worth consideration?
The answers to these questions seem obvious on paper, but as Reggie states in a later episode “there’s nothing self-evident about it.”
It took me a few episodes to get into my stride with this one, but I’m telling, you, it’s worth checking out.
I, for one, am not getting shit done at the office on Monday.
What are your thoughts on the series? What was your reaction after watching Episode 5?