Proceed at your risk!
The Netflix original series Dear White People, based off the movie of the same title, was released on Netflix two Fridays ago. I saw the original movie back when I was a freshmen in college, and I can clearly remember leaving the movie theater with my best friend Ade. We were discussing how we felt unsatisfied with the ending. Not because it was poorly constructed or anything, but mostly because no problems were solved. As a movie go-er and someone who likes when stories feel at least 85% finished, this upset me. But as a black American who had, at that point, spent the majority of four years in a predominantly white high school in Rye, NY only to then attend a predominanlty white institutution for college in Purchase, NY, I knew (and still know) too damn well that the ending of the movie version was accurate. So when it was announced that Netflix was going to be putting out a series based off the movie, I was excited. If they played their cards correctly, the series had to be better than the movie. This gave the writers a chance to flesh out the characters we only got glimpses of in the movie, plus they’d be able to explore pertinent storylines and add some new ones that reflect the college experience for black students at PWIs.
The Netflix series Dear White People is no doubt important, so let’s talk about it.
- The show is soaked in and drizzled with Sam White’s lightskin privilege. I don’t know if DWP is trying to make a commentary about how our society only feels comfortable when lightskin and biracial (looking) black people speak up (shoutout to Jesse Williams and Beyoncé, who got flack but would have gotten so much more if they were darkskin), but if they are making a commentary, kudos to them. I was a bit annoyed at first when I saw that Sam was this super lightskin girl with these exotic looking eyes because the experience of a lightskin black woman at a PWI is very different than the experiene of a darkskin black woman, but I was LIVING for when Coco brought up how Sam’s lightskin privilege makes her justice rants against the white man more palatable. Also, Sam being biracial attempts to make her somehow more tragic than her other black counterparts, like she’s caught between two worlds (which she is, granted). So, not only do we have a lightskin black woman leading the charge, but she’s also half white? We get the white savior without actually getting the white savior. And that’s an issue. I’m not saying that there aren’t biracial people who stand up agianst injustice and are super pro-black. But it’s annoying when you have the lightskin black girl who loves herself pitted against the darkskin black girl who we are made to believe swallows her blackness in order to be more palatable.
- Would Sam and Gabe and this…thing they have still be marketable if Sam weren’t biracial? Serious question, and I’m only looking for serious answers. Yes, I know that Sam being biracial was a part of the movie (and I’m also pretty sure movie-version hid this fact), but why couldn’t this be revised? Why couldn’t we have a non-biracial black woman in a relationship with a white man? Would this not be marketable enough? Could we not fathom a woman with two black parents being interested in and dating a white man? The conversations about Sam’s relationship with Gabe and this betrayal the other characters describe seems a bit…I don’t know, insincere and halfbaked. Sam is black, yes, but please don’t foget that Sam is also white. And her relationship with Gabe is definititely interracial, but also not that unexpected and not that outrageous as if it were Coco or Joelle who were dating him. And on the topic of Sam and Gabe…
- Did we reallly need a biracial relationship at the center point? I get it…having Sam torn between two guys, let alone one of them black and one of them white, makes for good drama. But why? In a show that was supposed to center black people dealing with spaces dominated by whiteness, we still had to have some white dude who was dealing with a black woman dealing with spaces dominated by whiteness somewhere near the center. By making the turbulence in Gabe and Sam’s relationship one of the top three things Sam focused on, the show, by default, allowed a white man to be centered, especially in the episodes surrounding Sam and the one episode centring Gabe. I didn’t need or care about Gabe’sbackstory or perspective, to be honest. The show isn’t about white people. Yeah, the title is Dear White People, but the show still ain’t about them. When I realized that Episode 7 was going to center Gabe, I was peeved. Why did we need the white guy’s take on what happened? The information we received from the Gabe-centered episode could have easily been given to us in an episode that centered around Joelle. I would have loved to see an episode where we got more from Joelle’s story besides the fact that she’s the funny, darkskin best friend to our lightskin heroine Sam who just happens to be into the same guy pining after her best friend.
- Yay, black people being…people! Black people in white spaces don’t spend all of our time talking about being black. I know, shocking, right! I truly do appreciate that DWP shows the characters going to parties, having relationships, trying to pledge, etc. We’re full fledge humans, and it was refreshing to see myself reflected back to me. Dealing with microaggressions and racist people isn’t the only thing black co-eds do. We partake in regular school activities, as well. Also, as Joelle so poignantly mentions in Episode 5, “Sometimes being carefree and black is an act of revolution,” and it’s very important that this sentiment is made clear.
- Your hair does not dictate your level of wokeness. Why is pre-revolutionary Sam shown with straight hair, while post-revolutionary Sam isn’t? And also, why is it that the first shot Sam takes at Coco is about her weave? And then again, in the flashback to freshmen year? This irked me. We already see this perception of a dicotomy when it comes to black women and our hair. People (white women and black men, tbh) love to point out when a black woman has a weave or straightened hair, as if we can’t be both someone who fights injustice while also rocking a protective style? Why are these two things incompatible? I will say, the show redeemed itself for me in this regard, once Coco stood up and talked about how she was from the southside of Chicago (also, shoutout to the Michelle Obama imagery, thank you!) and also when she started rocking her natural hair later on in the season. Coco is scarred, intelligent, and equipped to navigate the white spaces she operates within. However, pairing the darkskin black girl with the weave who has been teased about it with the ideology that black people should tone down their blackness in order to fit in seemed really regressive and sent Coco three steps back after the two steps she took forward.
- Dean Fairbanks is Dean Do-Nothing. Dean Fairbanks is what happens when black people get in power, but were only interested in power and not the actual people. When Reggie had the interaction with the police, Dean Fairbanks’ excuse was that Reggie had to have a conversation and reach out in order for anything to happen. How about consistently emailing or reaching out to Reggie? First, to make sure one of your students is okay, but also to get his perspective. How about realizing that the black students on campus don’t trust you (and with good reason, too)? Dean Fairbanks is also what happens when an older generation loses hope and wants the younger generation to be content with the mediocre BS we’re being served. He’s also drenched in respectability politics (throwback to this video), but that’s another story.
- Lionel’s character is SO important. First of all, Lionel’s character is ADORABLE. Second of all, thank you to the writers for showing us that not everyone down with the cause has to pick up the megaphone. It’s easy to think that the only ones making a difference are those who are in the streets protesting with signs and shouting protest slogans. This simply isn’t honest. Lionel’s character is super refreshing, as he illustrates that you can make a difference and be heard via the written word, as well. Through Lionel, we see that sometimes you have to disobey direct orders and report the stories that matter. Yeah, you run the risk of getting fired or yelled at or publicly crucified, but the people you wrote the article for are now more informed, better equipped, and finally having their stories recognized. Also, Lionel being incredibly shy and anxious, but also gay, added the fact that there should be and must be a place for all kinds of black people in our revolution, or else it’s not inclusive and not actually pro-black, just pro-certain-types-of-black.
I really hope Netflix creates another season, because I’m super excited to see where the show will head in Season 2. Also, are one-hour long episodes too much for a girl to ask? Just sayin’.
Have you watched Dear White People? What did you think? If you haven’t, are you planning to? Why or why not?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!
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