When Dear White People first hit theaters in 2014, I was intrigued by its title and wondered what a movie with such an eye-catching moniker had set out to accomplish. I was surprised to find that the writing was witty and snarky, extremely provocative and ultimately talked about a lot more than race. By and large, the Netflix series is even better, which is a rare occurrence, but a welcome treat.
Dear White People is set on the campus of a fictional Ivy League school called Winchester University. Like the film, the series follows the lives of several students, namely Samantha White (Logan Browning), a junior Media Studies major who hosts an inflammatory campus radio program known as “Dear White People”. When a blackface party is thrown on campus, it sets off a series of events that expose underlying racial tensions. Rife with satire, provocative storytelling, and multi-dimensional characters, DWP is a “call to action” for all of us- no matter what our skin color.
Each episode is told from one character’s point of view, which allows the viewer to better understand everyone’s actions/decisions. I could appreciate this style of storytelling since everyone had a wildly different perspective on not only the blackface party, but being black at Winchester (a predominantly white school) period.
It was very refreshing to see characters both black and white expressing their true feelings about the fateful party. Many were outraged, but some had mixed feelings while others were confused and needed educating on why such a thing was so offensive. Just as in real life, these are the difficult conversations we should be having in the U.S.
Logan Browning’s character Sam gets the very first episode. Sam is intelligent, highly motivated, and known as a rabble-rouser on campus. She is also the unofficial leader of the BSU (Black Student Union) as she heads up many of their initiatives and protests and many look to her to lead the way. Though put together on the outside, Sam’s personal life is in shambles as she finds herself in a conflicting love triangle with white boyfriend Gabe (John Patrick Amedori) and loyal friend/BSU comrade Reggie (Marque Richardson).
Then there is Lionel Higgins (DeRon Horton), a sophomore who works on a campus newspaper and struggles to figure it all out- namely his sexual identity. While Sam is admirable, Lionel is my favorite because though mild mannered and highly self conscious, he does have a great sense of justice. Lionel begins to come out of his shell and by the 10th episode it is apparent just how much he has grown as a person and as a writer- perhaps more than any of the other characters.
Another notable character is Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell), the golden boy and popular “legacy” kid at Winchester. His father (Obba Babatundé) is a dean and makes his life miserable by pressuring him to be the best in everything. Tensions on campus only swell after he is voted in as Class President. The black students, like Sam, see Troy as a sell out and white people are quick to use him as an example to “prove” there is no longer racism at Winchester since he has been elected.
DWP may poke fun at race, but it also addresses many other issues like homophobia and political correctness. I liked how Sam, Lionel and Troy had experiences that many people across the board can relate to. Whether that’s being uncomfortable as the only POC in the room when a topic like slavery is brought up, or the feelings that occur when pressured into labeling one’s identity.
It’s hard to pinpoint my favorite thing about this series. It could be the epic writing, which I’ve already mentioned, the fun and highly relatable characters or the fact that DWP is steeped in pop culture and filled with hilarious references and colloquialisms familiar to the black community.
There is a particularly hilarious ritual that the black students have every week and that’s hate-watching a show called Defamation, which very closely resembles Scandal and even has a sharp-dressed Olivia Pope look-alike. Similarly, there is a brief clip of a show called Dereca: Set me Straight, obviously a riff on Iyanla Vanzant’s Fix My Life. Moments like these help infuse some humor and further ground this story in the real world.
A project like this one gives a voice to many and speaks on issues that are unfairly labeled as controversial just because they are uncomfortable to speak on. I’m hoping that more shows and movies are created that explore race relations in such an open and honest way. It’s obvious that people need the push to begin real-world conversations. Jordan Peele’s Get Out proved as much when it dominated the box office earlier this year.
In many ways, DWP feels like my generation’s School Daze, A Different World and House Party all rolled into one. To put it simply, creator/writer/director Justin Simien has a masterpiece on his hands. While much of the show is geared to Millennials I think that other generations can definitely find enjoyment in it as well.
Dear White People is created by Justin Simien and stars: Logan Browning, Brandon Bell, DeRon Horton, Antoinette Robertson, John Patrick Amedori, Ashley Blane Featherson, Marque Richardson, Nia Jervier, Jemar Michael, Wyatt Nash, Jeremy Tardy, Obba Babatunde, and Giancarlo Esposito. It is currently streaming on Netflix!
Have you watched Netflix’s Dear White People? What do you think about Season 1?
Season 2 where ya at?!
(hopefully on the way)