Dear White People was first released in 2014 as a film directed by Justin Simien. The story followed four black students as they attended a predominately white institute named Winchester University. Each character represented a different perspective on what it meant to be black in a majority white space and each handled racism differently in a post-Obama country. The protagonist, Sam White, was a bi-racial, pro-black, film major with a provocative campus radio show entitled, Dear White People. The films main plot was Sam’s pursuit to become president of the black student occupied dorm, Armstrong Parker, and her fight against the integration of the dorm. Troy was the son of the Dean and the golden boy of the campus. Coco, short for Colandrea, was a bougie student from the Southside of Chicago who aspired to be the next reality TV star and Lionel was the gay, nerdy, black journalist who was too black for the white students and too white for the black students. Between Sam’s task to save the dorm house and Lionel being caught in the middle of the drama, a blackface party ensues and shit hits the fan on the campus. It is revealed that the party invite was not sent out from the racist magazine group, Pastiche, but in actuality was set up by Sam.
The Netflix series returns where the party left off. Sam, Lionel and some of their friends crash the party, while Troy arrives with the cops, and Coco shamely defends the students for being able to be black for one night.
The episode opens with the blackface party and the crash that follows. The camera pans around the chaotic scene to land on our protagonist, Sam and her handy dandy vintage camera. Sam is a junior studying film and the host of the controversial radio show, Dear White People. Many students listen to the show including the group behind the racist satirical campus magazine, Pastiche. In response to the party, Sam opens up with what the student body is allowed to wear to a Halloween party and what not to wear which is simply, “me” as in black face. This was the scene that was used in the date announcement trailer along with photos of white students dressed in black face and stereotypical “black” attire. This simple request in a fictional series enraged people so much that the YouTube video currently has 57,361 up votes and 420,728 down votes! Unsurprising comments of, “What if there were a, Dear Black People?”, and “I’m unsubscribing from Netflix”, fill the page which is odd because I thought most of these sensitive white people unsubscribed when Luke Cage was released. There is more outrage from the title of the series and not the fact that college students AND adults are still doing black face every year, crazy right?
Sam’s best friend Joelle is introduced. She is played by the lovely Ashley Blaine Featherson who I was introduced to on the web-series, Hello Cupid. In the film, she was more of a side character but in the series she gets a deserving boost; I guess. It would be nice to see more of her story in season 2. Joelle comes off as the contradicting comic relief. She’s “woke” but watching, “some white bitch from Texas”, on how to be waist thin and ass phat. Sam reassures her that she is fine and states “is white bitch her name?” She also describes the guilt of re-watching the Cosby Show sitcom following the accusations which Sam deems a conspiracy because “Cosby was in route to purchasing NBC”. Right. It’s clear they have a fun relationship even though their focus does not always align.
Then we see Reggie (heart eye emoji). I liked his character from the movie. He was serious in his fight against racism but let Sam lead the efforts which can be seen as admirable or a tad bit immature. Soon after, Sam is seen having sex with who we assume is Reggie but it is actually Sam’s secret white bae, Gabe. Gabe is a T.A. in one of Sam’s classes; he’s is a little more scraggly/hippie looking compared to the clean cut Gabe from the film. He doesn’t seem as much of a condescending asshole as the films character instead he comes off as a carefree kind of guy. After their session, Sam gets ready to leave for a Black Caucus meeting. Gabe wants to come with but we know how this goes; Sam cannot be seen with Gabe or it will diminish her pro-black persona.
When Sam arrives to Armstrong Parker for the meeting she is greeted by Lionel Higgins, a writer for the student newspaper, Winchester Independent. She begins to describe the four different black student unions at Winchester University. This is similar to the scene in the film where Sam describes the different type of black students at the university, the oofta, nose job, and “keeping it 100”, black student. Out of the four groups, there’s Sam’s group, the Black Student Union; they’re a good medium between aggressive action and organization. The African American Student Union (AASU) who is said to not contribute anything and consists of Kelsea, a super bubbly and naïve student, and Cordell, the resident pastor. There’s the Black American Forum (BAF) consisting of mediocre slam poets who throw great parties; picture dashikis, ankh necklaces, and fist in the air; hashtag stay woke! The last group lead by Troy Fairbanks (who interrupts Sam’s introduction) is the Coalition of Racial Equality (CORE). Think future black leaders of America. This group also includes Coco which is short for Colandrea. Coco was her way of sounding less “urban” than Colandrea. I wonder what her middle name is.
As they are discussing the blackface party and how to take action, Coco’s phone chimes. A sinister look appears across her face as she begins to tag others in the post. While Sam is talking about the incident, everyone starts to look at their phones in shock. Sam stops and looks at her phone to see a photo of her sitting on Gabe’s bed, clothed with the caption, “hate it when bae leaves”. Scandalous! My mouth dropped. This was so disrespectful and violating. After the meeting, Sam finds her friends and Coco chatting about the photo. She and Joelle have a discussion about her secret bae. Joelle is frustrated that her best friend didn’t tell her and that he is white. She reminds her of how they met in the comment section of her article entitled, “Don’t fall in love with your oppressor”. Through all of this, Joelle gives Sam a reassuring hug of forgiveness and acceptance.
Joelle’s honesty about her feelings with Gabe’s race was realistic. Everyday black women who are in interracial relationships get side-eyes but black women who are super pro-black get the ultimate side eye (and so do men). It doesn’t make one unauthentic when they date interracially but it can be a tad disappointing especially when there’s men like Reggie who are ready to give someone like Sam the world. The heart wants what it wants; we shouldn’t force someone to be with someone they don’t want to be with.
Later, Sam talks to Gabe about the photo in which he apologizes for but also replies with, “I’m only a millennial on paper”, which is hilarious. Anyone in their late 20’s to mid-30’s can relate to this. Sam invites Gabe to a viewing party at Armstrong Parker. This is their first time being seen in public and specifically being seen at the black student occupied dorm. She questions his laid back attire, suggesting he wear some “jays”, in which he replies, “Are you trying to My Fair Lady me for your black friends?” I haven’t seen this movie but I understood the joke. In general the series has a ton of film and TV references that if you’re not up on you’ll miss the joke entirely. Gabe’s question is fair. Does Sam want him to be something’s he’s not? So, they go to the dorm where they’re met with some side-eyes and a little shade from Joelle. They watch a parody of the hit show Scandal which is entitled, Defamation. It is hilarious and even though I’ve never been to a public screening of a show, I feel this was a realistic depiction of how black students come together to watch what some consider quality TV and some consider garbage.
After the show ends, the black face incident is brought up. Gabe puts his foot in his mouth with the classic white liberal response of, “I can’t believe this is happening in 2017” and “I’m just as pissed as you”. Reggie’s not having it; he responds with, “It’s like you and I attend two completely different schools”. Which is very true. Gabe can try to relate but he will never know what it feels like to be black in America even if he attended an HBCU it still wouldn’t be the same. Gabe questions whether Reggie will hit him which is entirely absurd. He and Sam leave the screening where Gabe argues that he was uncomfortable, Sam replies with “Welcome to my world”. Gabe acknowledges this but states that he would never make Sam feel uncomfortable with his friends. Meh, I can see how he could be disappointed but at the same time, he needed to hear what Reggie was saying. There is a problem at the school let alone the entire world when it comes to racism so instead of responding with tired phrases, he should have asked how he could help or support groups fighting against these issues.
After the convo, Lionel pulls Sam aside to tell her that the newspaper has evidence that someone else other than the group behind Pastiche sent out the invite; basically giving her a chance to confess instead of allowing the paper to break the news. The next day Sam arrives at her radio station to find her slot replaced with a show entitled, “Dear Abigail”. She rushes in to bump Abigail off the air and give the white students a piece of her mind. She eloquently states why her radio show is not racist compared to the actual racism that is plaguing black American schools, neighborhoods, and well being. She also reveals that she was the one who sent the invite for the blackface party and that she “considered it a sociological experiment” that the students passed with flying colors. She ends it with an apology to her bae, Gabe.
The first episode was a great recap of where the film ended plus the aftermath of the party. Logan Browning, as Sam is ok to me. She doesn’t play as commanding as Tessa Thompson did in the film; she’s somewhat laid back. This could be because the film was shorter, the personalities had to play bigger so since Sam’s story is stretched out in the series, she’ll have to tone it down a bit. Lionel and Coco’s characters were also re-casted but I’ll talk about them in their individual chapters. The cinematography and dark neutral colors were great. The introduction of each chapter for the students was creative as well. I love the set design of Sam’s room and the clothing worked perfectly for each character especially the different BSU groups. The writing for the different BSU groups and the screening of Defamation represents the type of specifics that can only come from black writers. It’s so realistic and detailed; it adds an extra layer of believability to the show. All of the haters who have or had something to say about the title should watch the show and pay attention to the last scene. This scene perfectly sums up why Sam has her radio show and why we need a series entitled, Dear White People!