Review: Taking full resilient force from Justin Simien’s 2014 indie-hit, Dear White People, Netflix’s Dear White People reuses the same force to launch this 10-episode of witty comedy into this year’s most thought-provoking spectacle. This works as an extension of the infamous black-themed white-people party in the feature film, although it starts off with effective reimagining of it; but, it transcends mostly as the aftermath with counter-racism and cross-cultural conversation at its heart.
Set in a fictional Ivy League university, Winchester College, Dear White People follows a tribe of black students living in all-black dorm named Armstrong-Parker house. If the film version combines multiple characters’ arcs in a full-frontal riot, the series presents the story differently. Each pivotal character gets a full 30-minute episode arc in exercising the doomed party’s aftermath.
While the film focuses on an event (presented from multiple POVs), the series keeps the narrative progresses chronologically while, at the same time, profiles each character’s stands and consequences to the ugly, perplexed truth. First few episodes attempt to mend the gaps for audiences, who aren’t familiar with the premises, and re-introduce several pivotal characters in this ridiculously-taken serious discussion.
First to bring up to the table is Samantha White (Logan Browning), a media student who owns a controversial radio program in campus called ‘Dear White People.’ She might be Che Guevara of Winchester; but, she herself is troubled. Sam is of mixed race and, ironically, a White; she’s giving impression like she’s into Spike Lee, while she loves Ingmar Bergman’s works better; and she’s dating a white guy. Sam is only one character, but her complexities have ignited and inspired other characters’ arcs into intermingling with her. Therefore, as Sam’s narrative progresses, the others progress the same way.
Along with Sam’s arc, we’ll also be reintroduced to pivotal characters from the films, i.e., Lionel Higgin (DeRon Horton) – a nerdy, gay university journalist, Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell, reprising his role in the film) – the school’s dean’s prodigal son, who also aims for campus presidency, and Coleandrea ‘Coco’ Conners (Antoinette Robertson), a complex black beauty who always comes as a social climber (although, she’s far more complex than that). Their arcs dominate the first half of the season explore every possible angle to depict how Winchester is in trouble more than bleak racism itself. Personal labeling, bigotry, communal racism (there’s a discussion about who’s blacker than who and the infamous ‘all-lives-matter’ pseudo-justification), and student politics adorn the first half of Dear White People seriously, but never becomes too pretentiously.
Second half of the season sees underused characters from the film (and, basically, first half of the series) get promoted into some pivotal figures. In an episode directed by Moonlight’s Barry Jenkins, Reggie Green (Marque Richardson), Sam’s male-counterpart and sub-ordinate gets the arc as the narratives goes darker. Then, Gabe Mitchell (John Patrick Amedori) – Sam’s white boyfriend – earns his arc, which also becomes a pivotal turning point in Dear White People where issues get escalated to an alarming situation. While the second half gets bleaker, Justin Simien will make sure that this show is a feel-good discussion check point with bantz and quips almost always on the edge.
One thing for sure in Dear White People: it isn’t a type of show which shows excuses/justification/pity on its narrative choice. Not everyone might connect, culturally or personally, to the show, let alone with the show’s unapologetic takes on racism/counter-racism as its center. It often shifts from being a full-frontal black comedy into a poignant satire (which might induce your awkward moments) in how addressing sensitive issues with such confidence.
So, dear white people, if this show isn’t about you, at least, you know now why it isn’s about you.
Dear White People (2017) – Season 1