I am a young, blonde white guy and I am grateful for Dear White People. In 2014, filmmaker Justin Simien released the independent film that inspired this series and it blew me away. Now, with the ten episode first season for Netflix, Simien has the opportunity to reach a wider audience and for that, I am grateful. Simien’s writing is witty and timely, sure, and the performances are spot on and engaging. Seriously, this is some of the best young talent I have seen on TV in years. What really floored me, however, is the unapologetic way in which Dear White People tells the hard truth.
Some TV shows make attempts at telling the truth by creating interesting fictional vehicles with which to convey truths and relevant philosophies concerning justice, politics, sex, race, religion, etc. Dear White People does not waste time trying to figure out what the “vehicle” should be but places us right in the thick of things. The show is set on a college campus where the predominant culture is white affluence. Simien and crew welcome an entire culture of people to look at the screen and see black and brown skinned people who are asking questions, of themselves and of their community, like: How do we respond to white violence against black people? How does a young queer black man navigate the complexities of his life? How does a mixed race woman who calls out white people bullsh*t every week in her campus radio show explain her relationship with a white man to her friends? How does a progressive community defend a popular black face party on their campus? The relatively unheard of Logan Browning and DeRon Horton lead the charge on these issues with their sly, comedic, and powerful performances.
At first, I will admit, I was confused by the decision to expand an expertly made film into a Netflix streaming series. It didn’t feel necessary. But now, I get it. Simien made a series because the generation that saw Philando Castile on the news and watched Donald Trump win a presidential election is watching Netflix almost every night and they need to see this story unfold. They also need to be confronted with the multiple different contexts that young black and brown-skinned persons could find themselves facing day in and day out. With a ten episode first season, Simien has found much more room to tell these vitally important stories to our culture.
The alt-right got mad when Netflix released the short teaser trailer for the series. They took to Twitter with #BoycottNetflix and they forced their disgusting display of fear-based racism to take over social media. Per usual, the white males of social media trolled the hell out of Simien and Dear White People and sought to create a stir that, thankfully, did not last. Simien’s series really isn’t about white people at all. It is a statement of truth, exploring what young black and brown people face when they are asking questions about race, sexual orientation, and other issues of identity. At most, this show is human and its well made. So, yes, thank you Justin Simien and the cast and crew of Dear White People.
Lastly, let me speak plainly: I don’t live the reality presented in Dear White People. I am white. I am married to a woman. I am a well-educated male working a cushy job. I am extraordinarily privileged. I will never understand what it means to identify as black or brown. I only wish to thank Simien and Dear White People for welcoming all people, regardless of class, race, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation, to watch the show and be a part of the conversation.
Joey Armstrong is a hospital chaplain from Western New York. He is also a playwright and amateur cartoonist. Follow him on Twitter @chaplainmystic and Medium, where he writes more reviews for film and television.