Dear White People is an American satirical television drama based on the film of the same name. Written by Justin Simien (2014’s Dear White People), it follows a group of university students at a predominantly white school. They are faced with social injustice at every corner. Excluding episode ten, each episode is from a different character’s perspective on how they are marginalised based on an element of their character. This could be race, sex or even intelligence. This show pushed buttons and it didn’t take long for YouTube to close the trailer’s comments section.
IMDB rated the show at 6.4 out 10 whilst it was certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. This show has received mixed reviews, as things that discuss topics like the ones in the show can have a tendency to “offend” audiences. Well, when you talk about racism in such a way as both the film and show do, you know ‘journalists’ like Katie Hopkins will be out to make her thoughts known, and then much alike many do these days, she took to Twitter. She later deleted the tweet but words are like arrows, once loosed you can’t call them back. So, it’s often wise to think before you tweet.
In reply to the mainly white critics on Twitter, the film’s director and show’s creator Justin Simien said: “I think what pisses people off is seeing a woman of color refer to white people en masse. Something she’d not dare be allowed inequality feels like oppression to the privileged and thus three benign words send them into a fight for their very existence.” Much to many things nowadays, audiences clearly did not listen to the critics. They watched the show to make their own minds on whether they liked it or not, and if they were also offended by the show’s representation of racial politics or if they saw it for what it was, political satire on a problem that impacts everyone.
And to be honest, the show’s backlash may have helped the show in getting more people to watch it, even if only out curiosity. Lead character Samantha Brown (Logan Browning) regularly confronts the university’s community to show them the types of racism that occurs on their very dormstep. For example, the first few episodes are about the repercussions of a blackface theme party on the black students who confronted the white students about this public act of racism. I mean, this plays into the common ideology of the West stealing black culture. Whether it’s in The Arts, sporting success, or hairstyles, it’s one more case of them imitating us, but you know, just the good bits.
Watching people of colour live in the gaze of university politics (shadiness) in a place that isn’t as “post-racial” as it believes itself to be is interesting stuff. Sam (Browning) is leader of the Black Student Union. Outside of her Malcolm X-compared activism, she’s having sex with a white man. And that’s how you drop a deuce in the Black Student Union. The first episode revolves around this and is publicised among her peers, the day after the blackface party. The show’s title was created to insight and the pilot got the ball rolling. Dear Netflix, thanks for bringing more social/politically relevant issues to the limelight and continue the solid work on the original programming.
The Netflix series could have been a self-indulgent thumbs up for liberalism and anti-conservatism but it’s more intelligent than that, dissecting the hypocrisies of the left. “Dear white people, our skin color is not a weapon. You don’t have to be afraid of it” says Sam and this plays into the intro of the pilot episode. “…Winchester University. The writers of this program are depending on my ethnic but nonthreatening voice to explain things they are too lazy to set up traditionally” says Narrator, voiced by the nonthreatening, non-hostile diction of Giancarolo Esposito (Malcolm X). The first quote is an honest fact, whilst the second satirises the archetype of the black man, we’re not all thugs!
Joelle (Ashley Blaine Featherson) and Coco (Robertson) are both dark-skinned black women and their stories are shown through the show’s depiction of colourism. But also how black men will be more inclined to go with a light-skinned woman or a white woman than someone who is society’s symbol of what black looks like, dark-skinned, and symbolically African. Not only does this show critique colourism, it brings issues like blackface, police brutality, and interracial dating to the forefront. Lastly, it shows how the white world can turn the other cheek to these problems because it doesn’t affect them, or people think racism is history and black people are whining for no reason.
These problems are depicted in intelligent ways, especially in episode five when we are witness to an act of police brutality. It’s rough to watch and it’s done without firing a shot. Reggie Green (Marque Richardson) hears one of his white friends say “nigger”, reciting a song’s lyrics. I don’t think there’s a person of the millennial generation who has not heard someone do this. Though, nobody should be saying “nigger”, regardless if the person saying it is black or white. American rap music and modern pop music has green-lit this word to be used by anyone anywhere when it was a term the masters used in reference to their slaves. Black or white, just don’t say it.
After shows like The Get Down and Luke Cage but also films like Get Out, this is a welcome sight. It’s satire, but more meaningful because the things it satirises are things minority groups see everyday. Anyone who has ever been a victim of racism or prejudice will understand this show and what it is trying to say, even the small things like having your hair touched without permission by your white classmates or being asked what type of black you are. “When you ask someone who looks ethnically different ‘what are you?’ the answer is usually a person about to slap the shit out of you” says Sam. Lines like this are designed to shock, but they’re quite witty too.
Whilst the film ruffled some feathers, the TV show butchered the whole damn bird. It is a searingly emotional polemic attack against white racism. The trailer alone was enough to get people’s blood boiling. After seeing the trailer for the first time, I wanted to comment but YouTube had closed the comments section. With a title like Dear White People, that was bound to happen. Racism is not a new topic, but it’s a subject that people would rather not talk about. It sets people on edge, it’s awkward and makes people nervous. And this original series shows that until we have this conversation like mature human beings, racism will continue to be an issue.
With excellent performances, a great soundtrack and a sound narrative, Dear White People critiques many important themes like the power of free speech/the media, white privilege and police brutality. However, it also continues off 13 Reasons Why in how certain young people thrive on having friends and how some will do anything to be part of the in-crowd. Despite the raw accusations from certain critics and such, I really hope we get a second season and their complaints don’t hurt the show too much.