Second season of “Dear White People” brings more biting social commentary

Andrew Shermoen

Now introducing the second season of the incredible Netflix program tackling difficult conversations about race that hundreds of white people negatively reviewed on Rotten Tomatoes just because they didn’t like the title. Geez. Why were we shocked when Donald Trump won the election again?

Spoilers for season one of “Dear White People” follow this warning. Season two will be discussed, but direct spoilers will be avoided.

Starting off a few weeks after the first season ended, the second season (stylized as volumes rather than seasons) sees the black students living in Armstrong-Parker House dealing with an influx of their fellow white students after the Davis House dormitory burned down in a fire the same night that Sam (Logan Browning) led her protest against the Town Hall. Along with the new influx of racially insensitive, tone deaf students into their home, the black students of Winchester college are dealing with their own new problems. Sam and best friend Joelle (Ashley Blaine Featherson) continue their radio show, and are directly at odds with an alt-right twitter troll. Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell) struggles to rediscover his voice after his rage-filled vandalism of a historical building on campus during the Town Hall; Coco (Antoinette Robinson) deals with trying to maintain her status and securing her position as leader of CORE in Troy’s absence. Lionel (DeRon Horton), who ended funding for The Independent school newspaper following a massive expose about a racist donor to the paper and to Winchester, is now operating independently, investigating some of Winchester’s secret societies. Reggie (Marque Richardson) is still struggling with the trauma of being held at gunpoint by campus security, and finds his best avenue is to talk openly about his experiences while helping Gabe (John Patrick Amedori), who is working on a documentary about how he can help notice his biases as a white person. All of these plots come to a head as the alt-right troll increases his harassment of Sam and her friends, who realize along with viewers that the troll might be someone hiding among them.

Season 2 of “Dear White People” shows how confident and capable the writers and directors of the show truly are. Where the first season of “Dear White People” extended the stories of the film that came before it and gave viewers some focused, interesting introduction episodes about our characters, and while it never lagged in its ability to tell good stories, it mainly felt like a simple extension of the comedic aspects of the movie; crafting some very pointed commentary on the experiences of black people in America. Season two doesn’t lose any of that, but adds drama and tension. There’s a reason the best episode of season one is the one that ends in a racially contentious party where a cop holds level-headed, compassionate Reggie at gunpoint. It’s the tension and visual moment of fear that season needed to really drive home its point. It’s the kind of visual image that feels like a slap to the face to me (a white viewer of the show), telling me to “wake-up and smell the injustice.”

Season two adds to that tension with the introduction of the alt-right troll and his online twitter cronies. A specific plot-line featuring Sam reveals that the trials black people face are much more than the physical exertion of authoritarian force Reggie experienced in season one. Psychological torment is part of the pain black people endure everyday as well. This is especially dangerous in a time when people can send hate anonymously online at the drop of a hat.

There’s a delightful air of mystery surrounding this season both in hunting down the troll and uncovering their identity as well as, in Lionel’s plot, trying to find the stories behind Winchester’s plethora of secret societies. This secret society investigation also leads viewers down the path of the history of Winchester College itself. Winchester may be fictional, but its story mirrors many real-life Ivy League colleges. This close examination gets deep into commentary of the systematic barriers set in place to bar black people from success in America since the inception of this country. The first season and film commented on these facts, but season 2 does an excellent job of showing, through flashback, the exact ramifications of these barriers in Winchester’s earliest years as an institution.

“Dear White People” isn’t just telling macro-focused stories about systematic oppression on college campuses. The show excels at presenting small, interesting stories about the delightful and like-able ensemble cast. After fully coming out to his classmates, Lionel’s perspective allows us to examine his difficulty coming to terms with his place within the gay community due to his anxiety with social situations and groups. It’s an additional nuanced minority perspective that the show handled brilliantly in the first season, but is yet improved in the second outing. The season also touches on issues like the white savior complex, Hoteps and abortion.

There’s really not much more to say about “Dear White People.” The show deserves effusive praise from all sides. The acting from all members of the cast is superb, although Bell and Richardson sadly don’t get all that much to do. Featherson does an especially great job, since she gets an episode to herself and knocks it out of the park. Each episode focusing on a different character allows for an anthology-style approach, which is always a welcome design for story-telling. When the show isn’t hilarious, it’s strikingly honest; when it isn’t incredibly honest, it is an emotional rollercoaster.

“Dear White People” not only brings back its biting and smart racial commentary, but increases it ten fold and adds some much needed tension to keep the pace of the season always moving forward. “Dear White People” isn’t the most visually stunning or unique piece of television being produced right now, but it works magnificently on almost every level.

Rating: 4/5 stars