by Kayla Jimenez and Ryan Stryska
“Turns out the only thing Americans love in their… TV more than ignorant black kids is crazy racist white folks.” This is one of the final lines in the film Dear White People that Netflix apparently agrees with. The entertainment company released a thirty-second trailer for its upcoming original TV series Dear White People, a spin off of the 2014 film. The trailer sparked widespread controversy, made headlines, and went viral. This angered people across the nation for one reason or another. Headlines ranged from “Why Dear White People has Netflix users deleting their accounts” to “Boycotting Netflix Reveals Your Privilege.” Two weeks later, we’re still seeing posts and articles popping up all over the internet regarding the soon to premiere show. Why is this thirty second trailer the focus of so much anger and confusion?
The trailer focuses on a scene where white people are instructed not to dress up in blackface for Halloween, followed by images of white college students at a Halloween party in blackface, holding fake guns, and wearing dreadlock hats. Black students enter the party, and the clip ends with shit hitting the fan. Initially, when we saw the clip, we thought the show looked stupid because, of all the things to call white people out for, they went with blackface, a rare occurrence that most people know to be socially and culturally unacceptable. We brushed the show off as pointless, borderline offensive, and racially divisive, we laughed at the like to dislike ratio on the YouTube video, and that was that.
The next morning, it was all over the news. People left and right were sharing articles on Facebook, both for and against the concept. The most prevalent opinions were the two most extreme ones: a) this show is racist towards white people! Everyone should boycott Netflix because clearly the company has an anti-white, toxic liberal agenda! and b) the only people who have an issue with this concept and want to delete their Netflix accounts over this are angry, white, bigoted racists who are crazy alt-right trash! This divisive news “coverage” forced the people with less extreme opinions to jump on the bandwagon of the side they most closely related to.
A black Facebook friend of ours shared an article titled “People Are Canceling Their Netflix Accounts over ‘Dear White People’” with the caption “Oh please BOI BYE. 👋🏼👋🏽👋🏾👋🏿” Hundreds of comments ensued, where other mutual friends explained the issues they had with the trailer and why they were concerned with the outdated stereotypes depicted in it. The friend continued to explain how much racism he endured growing up with us and how desperately America needs this sort of show, telling commenters to “give [him] a break. All of television is ‘Dear Black people.’” This man grew up in a racially diverse, liberal town, with friends of all races. He lives what appears to be a nice life, not negatively impacted by racism. However, he was full-on defending the show, acting as if he’d struggled all his life as a black American. He claimed that white people need to be educated on the hardships that face black Americans, and he thinks that this show can help.
Since he and many others (including writer, producer, and director Justin Simien) are arguing that the film is meant to educate people on race relations, we decided to find out more about what the show will look like. We gave Simien a chance before deeming his work racist and divisive propaganda. We watched Dear White People the movie, which is also written, produced, and directed by Simien. The movie takes place on the campus of a fictitious Ivy League university with few black students and a prevalent racist culture. The film focuses on characterizing people based on their race, especially the main characters.
The protagonist, Samantha White, hosts a radio show called “Dear White People” targeted at exposing white privilege and social injustice on campus. She is Black Panther-esque and puts constant effort into fitting in with other black students on campus, distancing herself from white students. She becomes very involved with the Black Student Union. When she’s not in public, she ~secretly~ dates a white man and listens to Taylor Swift. It is revealed in the end that Sam is, in fact, half white, and has felt throughout her life that she needed to “pick a side,” white or black. She hides intimate parts of her personality in order to seem more black and to mask the fact that she is half white. She goes so far as to spend hours in the morning to make her long, flowing, curly hair look like an afro. She feels guilty for this, because she pushed away her white father, whom she loved, and her white lover, because she was embarrassed by the looks people gave her when she held hands with her father as a child and her lover as an adult. She hides this part of herself and feeds into the racism around her by giving into this divisive nature of being black or white, which only separates the races and prevents unity. In the end, she realizes the mistakes she’s made and finally decides that racism is only as real as you make it.
Troy Fairbanks plays the white man’s game on campus, as a contrast to Sam. He dates the white daughter of the University President, who is only dating him to piss off her parents. He is a figurehead on campus, and he tries to become involved in predominantly white student groups and clubs. He has to forfeit his passion, smoking weed and doing comedy, because his father does not want him to be a black stereotype. (He is…thanks Simien!)
Sam’s right hand man, Reggie, is the Panther to Sam’s Black. He is NEVER shown hanging out with ANY white people by choice. His small group of friends is consistently black and all of his opinions are inherently radical. He just likes to start sh*t.
Kurt Fletcher, the token white asshole… what a dick. He is the only white main character in the film. He is depicted as an EXTREME racist – he literally won’t talk to or look at black people unless he’s harassing/arguing with them. He is a complete and utter abomination of a human. He abuses his black housemate, Lionel, because he is black and gay. (Kurt is also gay, but he’s so closeted it hurts and makes him even more of a jerk). He yells at Lionel, locks him out of the house, throws his dick in his face just to be a douche, runs an all-white student group, and hosts a “Hip Hop” themed Halloween party. This party is one of the film’s climaxes. There was maybe two black people at the party, where white students are dressed as rappers, wielding fake guns, and wearing blackface. It’s terribly racist. The Black Student Union (including Sam) crash the party and fuck shit up. The University clearly has an intense racism problem, augmented by assholes like Kurt.
Coco Conners, Sam’s antithesis, is also half white. She overcompensates to seem as white as possible, also feeling as if she needs to pick a side. She has pin straight hair, hangs out with white students, and hides the parts of her that relate to being black.
There are a lot of things wrong with this film. The only black person who has any common sense about race relations is Sam, and she only realizes this when she accepts being half white. The only central white person is borderline a satanist and has no sense of values or morality. The majority of black students on campus hate the white people and won’t accept black people who aren’t conforming to their ideas of being black, and the white students are so racist that they think it’s okay to use blackface as a costume accessory. The only two races in the movie were black and white, with one Asian student who was a member of the BSU for the snacks… how diverse!
Dear White People is a sad depiction of human beings, college campuses, and race relations in this country. To demonize white people and stereotype black people, and half black people, the way Simien does is a disgrace. This movie honestly does no good for society, despite Simien’s claims that it’s meant to be a satire to inform Americans about race relations. Simien himself wondered if he “was taking the satire too far.” … He was. The only positive takeaway is Sam’s realization that all of these people are crazy and racially divided as hell, and that she fed into that by pushing away the white people in her life and pretending to be something she’s not just to seem black. Even though the characters are supposed to be exaggerated dramatizations, it still isn’t cool to present society and the people in it in this negative light.
Doing this dangerously marginalizes less extreme people in real life. This movie tells black people that they can’t affect positive change in society without interrupting the flow of things. This is unfair, and takes away from the truth that extremism is rarely a suitable answer to anything.
It’s cute that Simien thinks that by perpetrating stereotypes of both white and black people while overdramatizing negativity in race relations in America is actually going to solve any racial divides that still exist. Instead of wanting to end divisiveness in America, he wants white people to toughen up their skin to be able to handle this sort of blatant nonsense, and belives all people (besides white people, of course) should be allowed to create and support divisive notions.
Dear White People represents situations of the past, incorrectly depicts our present, and damages what is going to be our future. We don’t want to live in the past or promote false generalizations surrounding white people, as this show likely will. Then, racism comes full circle, encouraging future white people who see this to be racist because they feel threatened and belittled, and convincing young black individuals that they are struggling and can’t be who they want to be because of extreme racism, forcing them to battle something that isn’t as bad as the trailer makes it seem. This is all just liberal Nazism, trying to superimpose racism on people who do not practice anything even close to that.
We need to realize what type of seeds this plants. Americans need to spread love, peace, and respect among all races and individuals, and Dear White People does nothing to help that. Simien explains that “whether or not such a show (Dear White People) was racist was a central question the characters grappled with.” That’s something we’re all grappling with now, and that’s why the announcement has garnered such a reaction.