(There are no spoilers in this piece. You’re welcome.)
Let’s get this out of the way early: The movie Dear White People wasn’t very good. It wasn't terrible, it just wasn't very good. For a movie with such a provocative title and premise, I was remarkably underwhelmed by the actual movie. When my friend and I left the theater we literally had nothing to say about it. A movie that actively addressed so many issues should not have been so…welp. I don’t know if it was my own expectations, or what. Who knows? But I’m guessing I wasn't alone in that thinking and that lack of word of mouth positivity didn’t do much to help it out in terms of movie goers or conversation.
Time goes on and in May of 2016, it was announced that the creators of Dear White People had struck a deal with Lionsgate to turn that movie into a Netflix show. A few things of note here: 1) I trust the shit out of Netflix at this point. Netflix Original series and Google are pretty much my ministry; 2) I was also surprised because I presumed that the folks at Netflix saw the movie and couldn’t have been any more whelmed than the general public. Plus, in the middle somewhere was supposed to be some musical that Justin Simien (the show’s creator and director) was putting together. All that to say, I wasn’t exactly anticipating this switch to the small screen but I like good things and try to support Black art and if Netflix saw it lookin' like an easy come up, ya bish, then I was going to at least give it some country.
Plus, if I can watch Deuces starring Larenz Tate and Meagan Good (am I the only person who has to look up how to spell her name every single time I write it) in a movie that is a knock-off of Power meets In Too Deep, on purpose, then I can definitely watch Dear White People. And yes, Deuces is a thing, and yes, it is on Netflix right now. It’s also nice to see Rick Gonzalez mixing his characters from Biker Boyz, Coach Carter, and November Rule into one. That boy good.
(On a side-note, there needs to be an underrated role player hall of fame that would definitely include Rick Gonzalez and Jason Weaver. It could even be called the Clifton Powell Hall of Fame for Underrated Role Players in the Cinematic Arts. It should be in, like, Charlotte.)
Back to the lecture at hand.
Dear White People on Netflix is EVERYTHING that the movie should have been plus some and I believe that the Black delegation is comfortable in saying that DWP is now cooking with gas. It’s compelling, it’s provocative, it’s well acted, it’s relevant, it’s nuanced, it’s funny where it needs to be, it’s satirical, it’s, basically, entirely fucking awesome. It's got power, poison, pain, and joy, hustle though, ambition and flow inside it's DNA.
By turning the premise of the movie - a rich, white Ivy league institution dealing with it’s racism, spurred by student activists - and delving more deeply into individual characters and fleshing out what makes them tick, it becomes a way more enlightening and enjoyable product. And it’s ALL entirely believable. There are no reaches. There are no situations that aren’t possible or likely. If you attended a predominantly white institution, it’s entirely possible that this whole show WAS your college experience.
Samantha White, the mixed girl with the powerful “Dear White People” radio platform that is intent on calling out racism and injustice, who ALSO happens to be the one dating a white dude, is still the central character. She's the sun, but other characters in the universe get an unabridged injection of interest. It's got…it's got…it's got…hm…realness, now it just kills shit and the show benefits tremendously because of it.
I’ve admitted that I can be sensitive at times (I have no shame about This Is Us drawing thug tears) but there are few scenes in this series that will break down even the thuggiest of edu-thugs because it could be you. Dear White People creatives leveled this shit all the way up, taking in all of the things that have happened in the past few years (including some of the criticism of the movie) and distilling them into the college experience.
I have to say, kudos to the team behind Dear White People. Everybody involved must have sat down at the table (no word on if Solange was present) and decided that they were going to ante up. The first episode is mostly a rehash of the movie (though better), but from Chapter II and on and on to Chapter X, shit gets real. Word to Shyheim.
While Greenleaf is a show for you if you’re for the shits, Dear White People is a show that’s funny and edifying at the same time. It’s a real show that could be anybody’s life on a college campus, especially nowadays. The dialogue is right, the situations real, the execution is well done.
Dear White People is what the movie should have been, but I needed the television version to understand why. The thinkpieces will come fast and furious and they will be laudatory. They will be right.
Et facta est lux.