Justin Simien’s 2014 movie Dear White People was about the politics, activism, and social scene at Winchester, a racially divided Ivy League college. In the movie version of DWP, everything was rushed—the story and issues were too big to cram into 100 minutes.
But as I’d hoped, the premise works much better on TV. The Black Caucus (aka the black clubs on campus) meets up regularly to talk smack and discuss their fellow students’ troubling racism. And when it gets to be too much, the students get together to “hate watch” their favorite drama, Defamation, a ridiculous parody of Scandal. Simien’s new Dear White People Netflix series allows for thorough character development, giving each character their own episode.
There’s the freedom-fighting Sam (Logan Browning), who hosts the radical DWP campus radio show and whose image is tarnished when her peers find out she’s dating hipster dude Gabe (John Patrick Amedori)—a sweet and sexy white Jesus type. There’s the seemingly perfect Troy (Brandon P. Bell), and student-journalist Lionel (DeRon Horton), who’s learning to accept his apparent homosexuality. And there’s Coco (Antoinette Robertson), who learned to assimilate from childhood, “managing” her Blackness.
The show does a good job handling tough issues like Halloween blackface, frighteningly excessive use of force by police officers, and why it’s not okay for white people to say “nigga” ever, even if it’s just in a song. It also highlights a variety of Black identities as opposed to just one. And while sometimes the acting feels a little overdramatic, it eventually grew on me.
Both the narrative style and the dynamics of young people being shitty toward one another reminds me of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why—except funnier, less morbid, and with way more adults. Another plus is the superb soundtrack, and a slew of steamy sex scenes. I was crying by episode five, and addicted by episode six.