I highly recommend Dear White People, one of Netflix’s newest original series. It’s based on the 2014 movie directed and written by Justin Simien, which I admit I haven’t watched yet. However, judging from reviews I’ve seen about it, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to watch it in order to appreciate the show’s message.
Each episode is presented in a different character’s point of view–Sam, Coco, Joelle, Reggie, Lionel, Troy, and Gabe are the main players, all students at Winchester University.
*Warning: Slight spoilers ahead.*
The main premise is that Sam hosts a radio show entitled “Dear White People,” and it has students on the predominantly white, prestigious school campus incensed. Most of the show’s critics are–you guessed it–white, but there are a handful of black critics as well.
To give you a taste of the plot, in the first episode, a black-face party hosted by the writers of an on-campus magazine is broken up by campus police when Sam and her friends decide to take things into their own hands and crash it. That serves as our introduction to Sam, Joelle, and Reggie, who are known on campus for their activism.
One of my key takeaways with this show is just how deeply flawed every single character is. Seriously, they all have so much self-evaluating to do that I cringed more than once. (This show was recommended to me by a friend of mine who had to tolerate my constant stream of “What the hell was that?” and “I CAN’T,” so shoutout to the fact that he didn’t block me before I’d finished the season.)
However, my observation isn’t a critique at all. I have a deep appreciation for flawed characters, because look in the mirror and look around at the people in your life. We all have baggage, stupid mistakes, and self-doubts piled sky-high. If anything, that just makes this show more relatable.
It also has some amazing comedic elements. The best ones are the subtle comments that you have to be paying attention to in order to catch.
At the center of it all, it’s about a vital conversation that isn’t happening at all the way that it should–between black people and white people. There are many real and present, racially-charged problems in our society. They have been there for too many years to count, and it will only continue to escalate (specially when we have certain people “leading” the country).
I have already seen criticism about Dear White People that asserts that this is yet another show that at first appeared to have good intentions, but eventually became yet another piece of entertainment aimed at the white audience with not enough substance.
However, if that’s the way you see it, I urge you to re-watch the season. If you ask me, the cast and writers for this show are trying to provide a more nuanced version of this extremely uncomfortable and complicated discussion.
Yes, there is no dispute that black people are constantly under attack, from institutionalized racism to the physical attack on black bodies by law enforcement. Yes, there are white people (and even black people) who think slavery is in the past, it should remain there, and racism doesn’t exist anymore.
If Dear White People were to present the discussion as above, though, with a black point of view and a white point of view, with the black point of view emerging victorious at the end of the season, I would have felt cheated.
Even the relationship aspect of things is so relevant–interracial relationships are still frowned upon by many, and it’s a real fact that a lot of the times, it’s not even strangers who are frowning. It’s the family and friends of the people who surround the couple.
One central Dear White People plot point comes when it is revealed that one black character is hooking up with her former TA–who’s also white. Suddenly, her dedication to the movement is called into question and her friends start to look at her differently, because a black woman should never willingly date her oppressor, as everyone refers to him.
That’s a real mentality in society– that black women and white men, or white women and black men, should not date because there is way too much historical baggage and the two cultures can never overcome everything between them.
This race discussion, from what’s happening in the streets to what’s happening in our private lives, is by no means clear-cut, and I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination that it’s going to end with the debate and pain wrapped up in a neat little box and tied with sparkly ribbon.
It is and will continue to be messy and volatile and problematic as hell. Each side will present valid points and each side will say some things that will have everyone raising their eyebrows.
The conversation needs to keep going, though. Tears need to be shed, everyone needs to feel uncomfortable, feelings need to be hurt, and we have to keep shedding light on just how flawed, frustrating, and multi-faceted it all is with shows like Dear White People.
Bradleigh is a co-founder and content curator for The Sirens Rise with a BA in Media Studies. Her favorite things to do are listen to music, get lost in a book, write for hours, and eat way more chocolate than one human being ever should.