I was late getting to your weekly Netflix Pick last week and with Spiderman: Homecoming hitting theaters figured everyone would be (and should be) busy with that.
This week’s Netflix Pick is the Original series Dear White People! The series was originally a movie, and oddly enough the movie is as recent as 2014. I’ll admit I wasn’t even aware of the movie before the series debuted. Not sure if that is saying something but whatever the source the series is worth your time.
The story follows black students at an Ivy League school populated by mostly white privileged kids. The black students are divided up into their own social clicks and different student alliances trying to do what they can for equality. The series kicks off with a frat party of an incredibly offensive nature that seems almost too bizarre to be real, almost. The series follows different students on their personal journeys in today’s sensitive yet polarizing landscape for young people.
I guess I should preface my write up and recommendation by stating I am white. I don’t know why but I feel it should be said when talking about a series that tackles the issue of race in our modern society. I’m not taking sides. I’m not saying how things should or shouldn’t be. I’m not getting political, and I am not trying to say I understand anyone else’s experiences in life but my own.
I am recommending what I found to be a fantastic work of relevant fiction (using the word ‘relevant’ like that makes me cringe, but there it is).
While the series follows multiple students the protagonist of the series and the driving force for much of the story is radio host Samantha White (Logan Browning). White’s radio show is the titular Dear White People which much of a certain sect of the student body finds offensive in itself. The show is meant as a satire, as is the Netflix series. The parallels are clearly no accident and at first feels jarring with the fourth wall kinda-sorta-not-really being broken.
The foil to White’s free spirit ‘let’s change the world by force’ is the much more even keeled Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P Bell). Son of the school’s Dean, Fairbanks is often not taken seriously as earning his place amongst his peers. His arch is incredibly interesting as he butts heads with his iron willed father and does a lot in helping out fellow student and journalist Lionel Higgins (DeRon Horton).
Higgins arc might have been my favorite in the series. The meek and shy Higgins is basically spineless when we meet him and goes on a radical but very believable journey into finding out his place in the school and finding out who he is. Horton does a phenomenal job as an actor, especially considering his relatively limited experience.
I could do five more pages on this cast but wanted to highlight a few of my favorite characters.
Where the show got me was in the second or third episode. Hard to keep them straight since I watched the entire series in three blocks. Samantha White is exposed for doing something very very morally questionable. Not as questionable as what she is railing after, but being the one who lights the fuse calls a lot of her character into question. Why is this terrible moment for the character where the show caught me? Because it made her real. It made the headlining character so real and showed that the series wasn’t going to be one sided in its message.
If you’ve been following my write ups on this site for any amount of time you’re probably tired of me talking about heavy handed messages ruining entertainment. Messages themselves are fine (sick of me saying this too?) well it’s true and that’s where entertainment is headed so get used to it.
Dear White People doesn’t take an all or nothing look to these issues. Of course the issues are brought up through a certain prism, due to the nature of who the show follows, but this prism changes every episode as a new character is tracked. Having all of the characters being flawed in their own ways and having some of the side players being just as marginalized for opposite reasons brings the whole point of this social commentary full circle.
Of course what the show has to say is ultimately what it’s sold on. The cast is the next obvious element you, as a viewer, will notice. Show creator Justin Simien (who also made the 2014 movie) either was meticulous himself or used an astounding casting director/agency to find the young talent that brings this to life.
The cinematography and video quality is also exceptional. The tone, balance, and way the show is filmed adds an engaging energy to every scene. It’s astonishing how often colors are washed out or the picture is grainy while every single day the pixel count on our home screens is increased. Dear White People shows up looking like the exceptionally well polished production it is.
Dear White People is a very fair, quirky, funny, incredibly well written, and masterfully acted series. Even better, in the lightning round of Netflix cancellations Dear White People was renewed for another season.