This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The show doesn't premiere until a few hours after this post's publication; we got screeners.
Dear White People Has A Lot To Say
And not just to white people.
What Is This Thing?
At the fictional -- but mostly white and very wealthy -- Winchester University, several African-American students tackle a slew of social and personal problems as they negotiate a campus crisis following a blackface-themed Halloween party.
When Is It On?
The entire ten-episode series premieres April 28 on Netflix.
Why Was It Made Now?
The show grew out of a well-received 2014 film of the same name. More than that, do I have to get into why we need an ongoing and vibrant exploration of race relations in America? I mean, besides the fact we have a president who is at minimum casually racist and that a recently published analysis of the 2016 presidential election shows fairly conclusively that racial views played a key role in the choice to vote Trump? Despite denials from the political right, the nation's racial landscape has undergone a significant shift for the worse. I can't think of a better time for a show like this to be made.
What's Its Pedigree?
Justin Simien, who wrote and directed the film, created the series; he also wrote and directed the first episode. Tina Mabrey is the other big name behind the camera, having written, directed, or produced several films and TV series, including Queen Of The South and Queen Sugar.
The cast is populated by relative newcomers, although their résumés boast a fair number of small film roles or recurring spots in TV series. Logan Browning, who plays protagonist Samantha White, is the most seasoned actor, having appeared in several series over the past decade, including Hit The Floor, Powers, and Meet The Browns.
Over the first few episodes, Dear White People comes off as little more than an updated homage to the early films of Spike Lee: if you've seen School Daze or Do The Right Thing, much of this show will appear familiar. Having Giancarlo Esposito serve as narrator -- he appeared in both those films, most memorably as Buggin' Out in the latter -- certainly reinforces the similarities. The choice to include a discussion of staying woke in the first scene of the series also brings to mind the "WAKE UP!!!" scene from School Daze...especially since producers seem to be using an audio clip from that movie's scene in the episode. In all fairness, the writers do make a passing nod to Lee's influence on the series by mentioning these films directly at one point. Still, if this had been all the show had to offer, I would have been more than a little disappointed.
In addition, the few dramatic moments that occur early on seem a bit clunky, particularly the confrontation between Gabe (John Patrick Amedori) and Reggie (Marque Richardson) during an otherwise excellent scene in which African-American students gather to "hate-watch" the fictional TV show Defamation -- which, BTW, I would totally watch too.
The series picks up right where the movie left off -- with the events of the blackface party. The first few episodes lay out the racial and class dynamics in play on the Winchester campus as the fallout from the party starts to settle. As I am CONSTANTLY trying to drum into my students' heads, race and class are NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. And Dear White People pulls no punches in exploring the complicated relationship between African-American students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as those between white and black students, particularly at a school with an overwhelmingly white student body.
This all works in the show's favor, but I didn't get really invested until Dear White People began exploring the personal stories of its main characters. The series most definitely has a lot to say about the state of race relations in America, but at its core its a story about young adults figuring out how to negotiate the complicated world they live in even when -- or perhaps because -- it's a microcosm of what they will face when they graduate. In the third episode, we get a glimpse into the life of Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell), son of Winchester's own Dean Fairbanks, as he is about to become the school's first African-American student body president. Troy is not exactly comfortable living in his father's shadow, but he is also aware of the privileges it brings.
If that story isn't enough to pique your interest, please stick around for the next episode, in which we get the backstory of Sam (Browning) and her now-enemy but former bestie Coco (Antoinette Robertson).
It's a well-written, superbly acted, and emotionally honest look at how the process of finding yourself in the first year of college often destroys the connections you make with other students who are going through the same thing you are. Really, how many people out there had the same friends senior year that they did as freshmen?
Sam, who is out to raise some hell and make sure people stay woke, sits at the center of Dear White people. And while I'm interested in seeing how she works her way out of the political minefield she has stumbled into -- mostly willingly -- I'm more excited at finding out what happens to her, Troy, Coco, and a few others on a personal level. It's a good show that layers a wicked sense of humor on top of a solid emotional foundation.