For those who are not chronic Netflix binge-watchers, “Dear White People” is a (fairly) new series depicting the various narratives of a group of Black students at an Ivy League school. The show is directed by Justin Simien, and based on his movie of the same name.
Ever since the first trailer for the show was launched, certain individuals have felt the need to label the show as divisive and offensive. There is even a petition to boycott Netflix because of its addition of “Dear White People” to its repertoire. I am not making this up. The good new is it only has 88 signatures; the bad news is it still has 88 signatures – it’s comment section is disturbing.
Not many things can reduce my vocabulary to a single exasperated sigh quite like cries of “reverse racism” can, so of course I had to watch the show and see what the fuss was about. Around 5 hours later (there are only 10 episodes) I concluded that those who were hating on the show had never watched an episode. Or at least that is what I am hoping, because I like to see the best in people, and DWP is anything but divisive.
In reality, DWP explores the nuances, identity politics, and growing pains that young, Black adults face when entering a social sphere hat was previously reserved for the privileged white elite. Colourism, sexuality, beauty standards, and more are addressed.
It is not my place to evaluate how well these issues are represented. Yet as a white person I can 100% confirm that this show is not offensive nor divisive. White characters are not unjustly portrayed, marginalized or ridiculed. They simple do not take center stage, and that is perfectly okay.
Entertainment media, like TV series, becomes enticing when we see ourselves represented, when we can relate to the characters on screen. It is no secret that television and film has overwhelmingly portrayed white narratives for far too long. DWP is a step towards greater recognition of inclusiveness and diversity in the industry and the stories that this industry tells.
I truly hope that DWP will have a second season, as I am already in withdrawal, and a second season might rectify the only issue I have with the show. As pointed out by Odunayo Eweniyi, the Kenyan-born character Rashid Bakr represents one of the only stereotypical portrayals of Black individuals that DWP has not been able to move away from: the token African guy.
Rashid, unlike the other members of his group, is depicted unilaterally and undergoes little character development. He is predominantly included in the story for comic relief, with jokes stemming on his “otherness” compared to the dominant culture. Eweniyi points out that “for Dear White People, like the rest of Hollywood, Africa hasn’t advanced much since Jesus was still around – and Rashid was lucky to be in America”. As I mentioned, I hope that greater time can be given to the development of Rashid’s character in Season 2, displaying a more accurate portrayal of Africans.
In conclusion, the boycotts, the petitions, and the general backlash against DWP is widely misplaced. I’ll give haters the benefit of the doubt and say that they got caught up in the show’s misnomer title and that they haven’t actually watched a single episode. But for those who have and are still offended, perhaps that outrage is stemming from a guilty conscience, a nagging feeling that it is time to check your privilege.