Dear White People (Recap) | Season 1

by Jeff Jensen | via Entertainment Weekly

Smeared as reverse-racist on Twitter, promoted with sly trigger warnings by Netflix, Dear White People reveals itself to be something more nuanced and extremely entertaining. The 10-ep binge is a droll college coming-of-age comedy from a fresh, needed point of view and a smart, satirical take on pressing matters of race, identity and cultural conversation that spares no one. It’s the rare film-to-TV adaptation that’s superior to the original and the rare Netflix show that makes every episode matter. Also? It’s really damn funny.

Perhaps you didn’t see the movie version of Dear White People. Released in 2014, the low budget indie and Sundance darling grossed $4.5 million, a profitable sum. Still, writer/director Justin Simien established himself as a true talent, and that provocative title transcended the work to become that most valuable of media things, a brand name. Bringing his creation to TV, Simien, who writes and directs 3 of the 10 episodes (the first two and the finale), recycles the film’s themes and character arcs, but with a new plot and meaty elaborations. Set at a fictional, mostly white Ivy League university, the series follows a group of black students who reside in the all-black dormitory of Armstrong-Parker. Blowing up the often racist construct of homogeneousness, Simien depicts a fragmented community of singular individuals and cliques, fraught with tension over competing perspectives on blackness and strategies for social change. (Among the few things that unite them, there’s “Defamation,” Simien’s nasty parody of ABC’s Scandal. It’s a weekly hate-watch event at the AP House.)

Holding the center is Samantha White (an excellent Logan Browning), an Army jacket-clad media studies major. Exasperated by the racism, ignorance and dim, demeaning attitudes of her white classmates (“You like Beyonce!” “Storm from The X-Men!” “Wait — what are you?”), Sam has embarked on a mission to enlighten her campus with a combative radio program. Sample advice, dripping with deliberate, cutting condescension: “Dear White People, here’s a little tip. When you ask someone who looks ethnically different ‘What are you?’ the answer is usually: ‘A person who is about to slap the s—t out of you.’” She’s polarizing, even an outsider, among her black peers. Sam is of mixed race and marked by complexities that get tagged as hypocrisies, perhaps unfairly. She’s got a white boyfriend, Gabe (John Patrick Amedori), but she keeps him on the down low. She loves Ingmar Berman; a Persona poster hangs on her wall, a tale of blurred identity that speaks to her.

We sympathize with Sam in her pursuit of truth, justice and white hot sex, but she has issues to examine and check, including some privilege. One essential episode explores her collapsed friendship with former roommate Coco Conners (Antoinette Robertson), who initially presents as a shallow material girl, but like every character on this show, hides intricacies to be unpacked. The girls began to drift; the police shooting of an unarmed black kid makes national news. Sam, raised in the suburbs, is shocked and catalyzed to activism. Coco, whose far tougher, rougher upbringing was full of such tragic injustice, shuts down and shuts it out; she came to college to escape all that, not engage in it.

The plot of the season is set in motion by an event that served as the climax of Simien’s film. It seems the white guys that run the school’s infamous humor mag, Pastiche, devoted to mocking anyone they deem “too self-important,” thought it would be funny to throw a blackface party, basically to teach Sam a lesson. (Responds Sam: “Dear White People, here are a list of acceptable Halloween costumes. A pirate, slutty nurse, any of our first 43 presidents. Top of the list of unacceptable costumes? Me.”)

To read the rest of the recap, “Dear White People,” click HERE!!!