Welcome To The Awokening: Why ‘Dear White People’ Is One Of The Most Important Netflix Shows I’ve Ever Watched

If there’s one thing that’s hard to pull off without pointing the finger, excluding a group of people from the narrative or just pissing everyone off, it’s a TV show all about race relations

Why ‘Dear White People’ Is One Of The Most Important Netflix Shows I’ve Ever Watched

by Jazmin Kopotsha |
Published on

If there’s one thing that I’ve found really difficult explaining to various groups of really close, super supportive friends over the years, it's how it feels to be treated differently, knowingly or unknowingly, purely because of how dark my skin is.

I’ve never been very good at it. Trying to relay to the people you think the world of how it’s different being the only black girl in predominantly white populations for most of your life normally comes with some uncomfortable skirting around what should be really straight forward points of discussion, with people who care immensely for you. Explaining why something someone said that upset me in a way that wouldn’t necessarily upset them – not for lack of empathy but rather through lack of experience – normally results in my awkward backtracking and lolling along with the rest of them so not to make A Thing of what other people would assume to be nothing.

Anything less obviously outrageous than having the n-word screamed in my face is sometimes hard for me to explain. And I feel a weird sort of guilt for not calling out those prejudice idiosyncrasies that are in no way okay, simply because I'm unable to find the right way to articulate them. And for all the instances where big picture, societal issue with race are increasingly addressed in the media and pop culture these days, there’s something that really struck me about Netflix’s Dear White People.

In short, it smashed it.

Don’t be misled by the show’s title. When the trailer for the show was released earlier this year, sadly yet unsurprisingly it was met with a reportedly huge backlash from the sorts of misinformed people who are quick to cry ‘racist’ and tweet #AllLivesMatter in retaliation to one of the most important movements that our generation has witnessed. But at the same time, the trailer became one of Netflix’s most watched racking up a million views in the course of a day.

You see, Dear White People isn’t just for black people. It isn’t even ‘about’ white people, or any other shade of human in between for that matter. And if I’m being honest I think it’s pretty ridiculous to assume it’s that simple. It’s actually about directly addressing a cultural issue around skin colour that every single person on the planet can, and should, take something from. It’s about that taboo, uncomfortable 'r' word that we can all be guilty of assuming to understand better than we probably do.

I sort of get why it might feel a bit against the grain to be talking about things like blackface, racially targeted police brutality and controversy around interracial relationships in 2017. Because this year, the awokening, is the year that our generation finally got to grips with the importance of social awareness, right? For some people, sure. Hell, Katy Perry even gave it a go. Well, the woke-movement hasn’t quite eradicated the day to day prejudice that doesn’t make the news, but rather hides in assumed safe places like schools, offices and university campuses, for example, where Dear White People is set.

The series is funny, makes you the right kind of uncomfortable whenever a storyline echoes something you've seen or experienced and a refreshingly accurate depiction of what racism looks like for our generation now, in 2K17. Here are some other useful things you might want to know about what's quickly become the most important TV show I've watched in a long time.

Dear White People and Justin Simien

So, some context. The Netflix show is actually based on a film by Justin Simien. He premiered the film at Sundance film festival back in 2014 and the ten episode series follows the same story about the same characters in a predominantly white Ivy League university.

Originally though, Dear White People started off as a Twitter account that Simien used to field ideas for his film – he’d use it to satirise race issues, reports the Time magazine. But the specific story around the black face party that sparks outrage at Winchester was inspired by the black face parties that Simien saw in universities across the world.

Speaking to Time he explained that the main difference between telling the story for TV and telling it for film was that with the Netflix series ‘I can relax a little bit and get into the themes and dirt under the finger nails’.

‘With a show, you can ponder something for an entire season. Like episode five was inspired by a scene that was cut from the movie’, he added. That’s the episode where a campus security officer (not a police officer) pulls a gun on Reggie at a house party. It’s also an episode where Simien gets to explore something as seemingly simple as a group of friends, black friends, wandering around trying to find a party but not being able to enjoy it in the same way their black peers are able to. ‘I didn’t think as a first-time filmmaker I could put that in a movie’, he said. ‘On the show, I got to slow down as a story teller and investigate little things’.

Actress Logan Browning on playing Samantha White

Samantha White is the show’s lead character and the voice behind the funny but not always well-received Dear White People radio show that airs across the university campus. What’s interesting and really important about Sam’s character is that she brings so many conversations to the table that expand from the core themes of the series. Conversations about issues that are typically forgotten when we talk about the generalised, wide-scale societal problem with race.

Sam is a mixed race black woman. She dates a white guy (secretly for a while) in the series which is a shock to the system for her black friends, and she’s also looked to by her peers to lead any form of activism in response to the injustice on campus. There's a whole lot to explore within that one character. Really interestingly though, in an interview with W Magazine, Logan Browning who plays Sam spoke about our generational relationship with protest and activism, which really manifests within her character.

‘Just because you’ve had a good intention doesn’t mean it always materialises into something positive. And that is part of activism. And that is part of the Millennial movements’, she explained. ‘Everyone wants to have a voice and speak up and be a part of change. But it can be a slippery slope when Twitter fingers turn to trigger fingers. Sometimes you just have to stop and think’.

Who narrates Dear White People?

According to our dear friends over on IMDb, it’s Giancarlo Espositio who narrates the series. Yeah, I kind of thought it was Lionel too. Giancarlo has been around the Netflix block, though. He appears in Okja and The Get Down AND he was the voice of Akela (the leader of the wolf pack, btw) in the live-action version of The Jungle Book.

Dear White People Season 2

[Spoiler ahead] You'll be happy to know that there have indeed been hints towards a second season. Justin Simien, the show's creator spoke to The Hollywood Reporterabout Troy's character, the class president and son of the dean at Winchester University who, in the final episode, snaps from his usual calm and collected demeanour and, without giving too much away, it really doesn't end either well or fairly . 'Maybe it will [escalate],' Simien said, 'We have not seen what happens moments later'.

'I think Troy's breaking point, in a literal sense, and what happens next to him is certainly of interest to me', Simien added. Let's hope that interest manifests in another ten episodes.

Like this? You might also be interested in…

Why White People ‘Acting Black’ Really Can Hurt

Things You Only Know When You Date White Guys. And You’re Not White

On Why The Casting Of ‘Guerrilla’s’ Female Lead Is Problematic

Follow Jazmin on Instagram @JazKopotsha

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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