Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Dear White People Season 1 Netflix Series Review

Dear White People (2017-)
Season 1 - 10 episodes (2017)
Watch Dear White People Season 1 on Netflix
Created by: Justin Simien
Starring: Logan Browning, Brandon P. Bell, DeRon Horton, Antoinette Robertson, John Patrick Amedori, Ashley Blaine Featherson
Rated: TV-MA

Based on Justin Simien's film of the same name, this focuses on racial tensions as black students attend a predominantly white Ivy league school, the fictional Winchester University.

This satirizes society while still being funny and engaging, but not coming off as preachy, though obviously with the subject matter at hand, the last point is debatable.

The conceit of this show is to show the other side. Watch it because it's a good show, watch it to see a viewpoint that's not your own. These are characters trying to figure out life and their racial identity.
I never saw the title as 'Dear White People'... you're stupid. After watching the series, It's 'Dear White People'... this is our experience.
Watch it.


Is this a 'black' show? As much as every other sitcom and drama is a 'white' show. Plenty of people have dismissed this based on the title alone. The title is designed to be reactionary. Did it turn away some viewers, sure. Those same viewers would have bailed out rather quickly anyway.

I feel the need to define racism, which is a criticism leveled at this show. Racism is the inherent belief that your race is superior and that other races are mentally or physically inferior. Claiming white people ignorant isn't the same as stating they're inherently stupid or can never possess the same mental or physical faculties as other races. Stating all white people like country music is stereotyping, not racism.

The title alone garnered more negativity than I expected. I don't think Simien was surprised. The first episode deals with a "Dear Black People" party, and that has to be a pre-emptive strike at those criticizing the title. What would a 'Dear Black People' show look like? Probably similar to that party, with plenty of stereotypes and generalizations.
Is the show implying the people criticizing the title are tone deaf? It's possible, and those are the people that will never see the show. Most television already is the white experience.
It isn't the conceit of the show that white people are insensitive. Sam's (Logan Browning) white boyfriend Gabe isn't a generalized stereotype,  and the show addresses the barriers he faces in trying to help.

The central conflict that starts the show is between the black student population and Pastiche magazine, a lampoon magazine that hosted the infamous party. Pastiche doesn't think they did anything wrong. Their response is essence is, 'Come on, it's just a joke.'
With any joke, not everyone finds it funny, and this isn't an innocuous joke. It's a stereotype that has been ingrained in culture. While the same people that consider that a joke would argue they wouldn't find a white face party offensive, the difference is that it's much easier to find 'white heroes' in entertainment that black heroes. All too often a black character is reduced to a stereotype.

This isn't a black empowerment show or pitting blacks against whites. Coco and Sam feel like outsiders at times even within the the black student population. Coco feels like her skin is too dark and Sam is bi-racial. Coco admits she acts white to fit in. She would rather fit in than stand up and thus stand out.
There is turmoil within the group. Sam's classmates criticize her outrage, cautious to balance taking a stand yet not being aggressive. They want to express their viewpoint, but the big picture matters.
Rashid, a student from Africa, doesn't really understand 'the struggle.' He's a fresh viewpoint that just wants to understand.

Each episode focuses on one character's point of view. The first few episodes all overlap the same time period of the party, before the timeline continues. It's a great structure and each character has a lot of depth.
Lionel works for the student paper and is sexually repressed. Troy is the dean's son, his overbearing father trying to combat stereotypes by modeling his son into some kind of prototype.
Sam is embarrassed as a black woman dating a white guy, Gabe. When he hangs out with her and her friends, they don't include him, dismissing anything he says. When he complains to Sam, she retorts that she feels that way everyday.
His response is that he wouldn't let his friends do that to her, someone he cares about. It shouldn't be about payback or reciprocity. It needs to be about caring for each other.
It would be easy to generalize white people, but we see the compassionate and the apathetic. We get to see the basic differences on how black and white people see society and even the police differently. These experiences aren't shared.

This show tries and succeeds at being more than just entertainment. The story is often secondary to the characters, and while this delivers a message, it wouldn't resonate without strong characters.

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