The controversial new Netflix series highlights the various perspectives on race and, while occasionally one-sided, fosters necessary discussion.
Now that school is out and summer has arrived, everyone is responding to Netflix’s abundance of binge-worthy series; one in particular being Justin Simien’s “Dear White People”. The ten-episode series depicts the viewpoints of five black students at Winchester University, a fictional predominantly white Ivy league school. The show, based on Simien’s 2014 film of the same name, follows these characters after a black-face party creates one of the biggest scandals on campus. While the events in “Dear White People” are fictitious, the attitudes and issues presented are all too real.
Since its release back in April, “Dear White People” has received some highly mixed reviews. Media student Samantha White (played by Logan Browning) and her campus radio show serve as the focal points of the series. The contentious rhetoric she maintains as she calls out students for their ignorance can easily come off as divisive or discriminatory. Some critics focus on this aspect of the show and take it as a one-sided, scornful ridicule of white people. Others have criticized the show’s use of satire as a hollow attempt at staying #woke. However, responses to the show concerning its diverse illustration of the black experience(s) embody what the show got right, and what I personally think is its biggest success.
As a black woman raised in a predominantly white town, I’ve had an interesting experience with race relations. The fact that I didn’t fit into the typical African-American narrative depicted in mainstream media made me realize that this narrative cannot be the only one. “Dear White People” continuously highlights this. In fact, with each episode focusing on one character’s perspective and back story, the very structure of the show serves this purpose. Reggie Green represents the provocateurs and combative activists while Coco Connors depicts the moderates who may assimilate to the majority. While scenes like Sam’s categorization of the various black student unions are clearly hyperbolic, the exaggeration of these archetypes is necessary to explain a reality that many people don’t understand.
Sam said it best when she explains that “[“Dear White People”] is meant to articulate the feelings of a misrepresented group outside the majority.” It may be difficult or awkward, but we need to have these conversations in order to move forward. This show articulates the important fact that these issues, even if you’ve never experienced them firsthand, are ones that affect all of us in some way.
The racial tensions that have followed us throughout history inherently shape our society. If we want the status quo to change, we all must understand every aspect of the status quo- be able to deconstruct it, analyze it, and identify the problems that need solving. We can’t get “butt-hurt ” when our own negative behaviors are pointed out to us. Instead, we should take responsibility for our shortcomings. “Dear White People” may illustrate reality in an extreme way, but it illustrates it nonetheless. Not to mention the show’s emphasis on the power and importance of millennial activism, another increasingly relevant topic considering today’s political climate.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think there’s room for improvement. Racism is not just a “black people problem”, so the show could use some more perspectives from non-black students. The few that are included in the first season often come across as either antagonistic or shallow, which obviously is not the case in real life. But, overall, if you’re looking for a thought provoking series with a killer soundtrack to watch this summer, “Dear White People” is the show for you.