“Dear white people. No one is asking you to apologise for your ancestors. We are asking you to dismantle the system of oppression they build that you maintain and benefit from.”
Last month, Netflix impressed audiences yet again with the release of Justin Simien’s show and Netflix Original Dear White People. Set across ten glorious episodes, the show bases itself at a prestigious college in America following on from a ‘black face’ party and confronts the multi-faceted nature of black identities in racist environments through comedy, anger, revolution, sex, drugs, desire and expectation.
“We can never come together until we face what divides us,” the show’s creator Justin Simien writes in his Twitter bio, and it’s evident to see such a quote translate into his work and across the season. Of course, the show set itself up for fragile little Trumpkins crying ‘reverse racism’ and ‘white genocide’ across social media as they still get pardoned with free speech for being literal nazis, but there’s something about Dear White People that’s just so, so great. It’s the kind of show you have to pace yourself and not binge watch in one go, just to savour every brilliant moment produced.
Similarly to the recent and controversial Netflix Original 13 Reasons Why, the series aligns itself as an anthology series, with each episode following an individual character, woven within the narratives of the other characters. This, not only allows for interesting watching, but prevents certain characters or storylines becoming stale or boring. This additionally allows the show to delve into a spectrum of different issues and identities within BME communities and throughout wider society. We meet gay student journalist Lionel Higgins (DeRon Horton) thirst over over-achieving college union president and hottie Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell). Their stories are entirely different to, say, social justice warrior Samantha White (Logan Browning) and her turbulent friendship with internalised-racist Colandrea “Coco” Conners (Antoinette Robertson) who hangs out with her white friends.
The show confronts and shines lights on homophobia and queer identities in black culture and community, race, class and education, internalised racism and white privilege in dual-heritaged/‘light skinned’ people. Dear White People is a patchwork of polarising people, places and situations, all coincidentally in the same setting; a racist university.
It sounds heavy and pretty intense and, yes, it is at times, but that doesn’t stop the show being absolutely hilarious. And comedy seems to be the show’s smartest weapon too. Dear White People tactically uses humour as a trojan horse to entice a large and mainstream audience into watching the show and hearing its message loud and clear. “Having a black vibrator does not count as an interracial relationship,” one moment declares.
The show is timely and uses it’s representation across race, sexuality and gender to reiterate that revolutions require different avenues of protest.
Episode 5 is where the game changes, though. Directed by Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, the episode rapidly highlights that horror of police brutality towards black people across America and is riddled with tense, anxiety inducing moments, shocking to white audiences and no surprise to the show’s BME audience. The show poignantly makes the same points that Orange is the New Black claimed to be proving in a more resonant way and without killing anybody. The episode enforces why this show exists, uses previous episodes’ comedy to drag in a binge watching audience and captures their hearts just as the episode airs. It’s genius.
Better still, Dear White People does not shy at using the names of real victims of racism and police brutality, with the names of Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile proudly declared in the first half of the series.
Need any more convincing to catch the show? It earned a rare 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. If you haven’t watching Dear White People, watch it. If the title of Dear White People somehow offends you, you should definitely watch it.