Dear White People, a new Netflix original series, premiered its first season on April 28, 2017 with ten thirty-minute episodes. The show is a spin off of the 2014 movie of the same title, expanding its original plot and introducing new actors as the characters while reprising a few actors’ original roles.Similar to the movie, the setting of the show remains a fictional “ninth” Ivy League university named Winchester, and follows a group of students of color as they navigate racial discrimination at a predominately white school.
The first episode introduces the race relations at Winchester when Pastiche, the campus’ all-white writing staffed magazine, plans to throw a Blackface party in response to protagonist Samantha White’s (Logan Browning) polemical campus radio show. Despite the cancellation of the party due to pressure from administration, somehow the event still successfully takes place. The diverse black organizations on campus get together to plan their retaliation, revealing contrasts and rivalry within the black students themselves.
Each episode follows a different character, telling the same story from different characters’ perspectives, but relies on third person omniscient narration. The narrator pokes fun at the very framework of the show when he introduces himself as follows; “The writers of this program are depending on my ethnic but non threatening voice to explain things they are too lazy to set up traditionally,” in the opening scene of the show.
Dear White People scored a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, the critic consensus siting the show as, “Timely, provocative, and sharply written” and “an entertaining blend of social commentary and incisive humor.”
The show is brilliant at depicting different minority groups that exist within the Black community through the diverse black organizations. Groups were divided by interest in social media hashtags and wearing dashikis (Black AF), the socially conscious or “woke” activists (Black Student Association), and the bougie politicals (CORE) but united in their experience as black students at a predominately white institution.
The New York Times said it best in their review of Dear White People when they said “the rapid-fire jokes don’t all land.” However, this rampant use of rhetoric is the best part of the show for me, personally, Eureka! moments like when Joelle Brooks (Ashley Blaine Featherson) told her best friend Sam, “You’re not Rashida Jones biracial, you’re Tracee Ellis Ross biracial — people think of you as black,” were magical and also connected for my other friends watching the show.
The universal theme of searching for one’s identity makes Dear White People especially compelling. Biracial people, or anyone with dual identities, can emphasize with Sam’s internal battle between the two cultures of her racial identity. Sam connects with her blackness through her position as President of BSA and her radio show. Lionel Higgins (DeRon Horton), a soft spoken student journalist finally accepts his sexuality and comes out to his roommate and crush Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bells).
The antagonists of the show are given an equal opportunity to resonate with the viewers by portraying their personal backstories. Coco Conners’ (Antoinette Robertson), Sam’s polar opposite, toning down of her blackness is easier to understand when she calls Sam out for her “light skin” privilege. The pressure put on Troy by his father, the dean of Winchester, and the student body to ease race relations on campus offers a semi-explanation to his opposition of the BSA’s acts of resistance. Even Troy’s father’s controlling behavior towards his son is semi-rationalized by the fact that he doesn’t want his son to experience the racism that he did.
While the show presents important questions, it is the beginning of a conversation and does not pretend to have the right answers. This is evident during Sam’s internal conflict with being the voice of black resistance while having a white boyfriend. Sam’s secret relationship with Gabe Mitchell (John Patrick Amedori) garners initial criticism from the black students. However, ultimately everyone begins to accept it as Sam does. In this situation, a correct answer is not forced. Instead, dialogue between characters allows viewers to form their own conclusions and opinions.
Dear White People is a breath of fresh air for young people navigating their way through race relations on campus, combining politics and personal stories to create the best new show next to Deformation. (“The epicenter of black college life at Winchester.”)