‘Dear White People’ urges viewers to stay woke

Andrew Shermoen

Netflix has dipped its toes into culturally relevant projects.

“Dear White People,” the newest original series to Netflix, is based on the 2014 film of the same name. While some may assume the show is trying to piggyback off its successful and well-reviewed predecessor, the real truth is that the show improves on its original subject material in every possible way.

Set against the backdrop of fictional Ivy League college Winchester University, the leaders of satirical campus magazine “Pastiche” throw a blackface party to protest the campus radio show “Dear White People.” The new show is hosted by Samantha White (Logan Browning), the president of the Black Student Union. Shortly after the party is broken up by campus police, the college scrambles to repair the damages dealt by the party, but the racial tensions between black and white students run high.

“Dear White People” has garnered a lot of controversy due to its title and subject material. People have deleted Netflix subscriptions over this show’s discussions of racism simply because they think it’s some sort of “white people witch hunt.” Let’s be clear. Everyone has something to learn from this show: privilege across racial distinctions, the complexities of interracial dating, the struggles of burgeoning homosexuality and policing free speech on college campuses. If anything, the show is a cultural touchstone simply because it gives people clear tips on how to stay woke. The show makes use of multiple perspectives by having each episode detail a different student. This gives it a well-rounded, well-executed take on the many complex racial issues plaguing the campus.

The only reason these themes are pulled off so well is due to the excellent characters and casting present here. Every single main cast member gives homerun performances. Browning’s Samantha is a proud and boisterous woman. Her emphatic speech targeting the racism at her school ignites a fiery passion in all who meet her and, quite certainly, the audience. There’s also a vulnerability to her, though. She speaks and plans, but she feels the stress of balancing a complex social and romantic life with her life as a social activist. It’s rare we see leaders like Sam be so vulnerable in the way the show portrays her.

Lionel, played by DeRon Horton, is a nerdier, quieter presence amongst his more outspoken peers. His moments of courage play out in a powerful, moving way, and his demure personality makes him genuinely lovable. It’s no wonder he makes fast friends with everyone who meets him. Marque Richardson is the standout member of the cast though. Reprising his role as Reggie Green from the film, Richardson takes the complexity and emotional depth of his character to new heights. Initially coming off as a somewhat one note character, the fifth episode of the series has Reggie in the spotlight and we see him become an almost reluctant face of revolution. He is a tortured soul– a young man at the end of his rope who begins to wonder if all of his fighting for survival has actually done him any good.

Among all this, “Dear White People” is also incredibly funny. This sharp social commentary lands Quentin Tarantino-esque racial slurs with a decisive mic drop, but also features a fresh sense of humor to very serious topics. Add to this the incredible “Scandal” parody that the black students of Winchester proudly hate to watch and the consistently exaggerated imagination scenes that parody classic film scenes, and one gets a well-rounded hit.

“Dear White People” is a perfectly realized show about the black university experience. Its commentary is sharp, its humor guffaw-inducing and the characters are infectiously lovable. Featuring a soundtrack peppered with A Tribe Called Quest, Future and Childish Gambino, the newest Netflix show is hard not to love. It would be unthinkable not to recommend a show that is so aware of our political climate and has a fast-paced, hilarious and interesting plot. Watch “Dear White People” now.

Rating: 5/5