Justin Simien, an up-and-coming young producer, director, and creative mind, is back at it again with his new Netflix series “Dear White People,” which has earned a rare, perfect 100-percent score on the popular rating website Rotten Tomatoes.
His film of the same name earned high marks at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and that success carries straight onto the small screen.
Netflix’s “Dear White People” derives its name from a controversial radio show within the series, in which Samantha, a passionate, young, biracial student, calls attention to issues such as assimilation and appropriation and other racial injustices taking place on the campus of the majority white fictional Ivy-league university in which the show is set.
The show picks up where the movie left off, with racial tensions at a boiling point as news breaks that a group of white students participated in a blackface party on campus. With a “popcorn” storytelling method, in which episodes are presented from a different character’s point of view every time, the individual stories of what followed the night of the infamous party are woven together in a masterfully cohesive and often comical, yet serious, fashion.
The viewpoints and subject matter depicted in each episode are as diverse and complex as the characters that each focuses on.
They range from Lionel, the gay investigative student journalist seeking to shed light on the racially charged issues affecting the students at “Winchester University” while simultaneously discovering and exploring his own sexuality, to Troy, the son of the university’s first black dean of students, who faces the difficult task of living up to his father’s grandiose expectations even as he attempts to keep tensions at the school from bubbling over.
Like anything in pop culture that tackles difficult-to-hear subjects, Dear White People walks a delicate line trying to get across important ideas while hoping not to alienate any of its audience. While nine times out of 10 the series accomplishes this with much grace, occasionally it falls short. With some characters being depicted as caricatures of an entire group, it proves that stereotypes and broad over-generalizations, despite being incorrect, still work their way into popular media and are still used to elicit laughter, even in 2017.
Dear White People confronts the issues faced every day by people of color in America, and dives into the sphere of hot-button social topics in a format easily digestible by the broad viewership that Netflix reflects.
The show has created a rare balance in its no-holds-barred, yet approachable, style – as if the lessons are being taught by someone near and dear – on subjects that range from relatively mild to forced assimilation, to systemic oppression.
With its tough but quirky portrayal of the issues the creators feel Americans need to hear and its powerful and relatable cast, the series is bound to be one that people all over can learn from, and will remember for some time.
5 out of 5