I am totally getting in to the new satirical Netflix series, Dear White People based on Justin Simien’s 2014 film of the same name, with Simien returning to write and direct.
It’s about a young Media Studies student, Samantha White, at fictional Winchester University, a prestigious, predominantly white college. White hosts a sharp, witty radio show titled Dear White People which criticizes white people, and especially, the racist misdeeds at the school. Her broadcasts cause indignation among the administration and the student body.
In Chapter One, a campus club of white boys, Pastiche, throws a black-face party to protest White’s radio show. Everyone seems confused about how word got out after the Dean of the school prohibited the party. The Black Student Union meets to discuss how to respond, where White is told by freshman Journalism major Lionel Higgins that he knows who sent out the invitations.
Not wanting to give too much away, because you need to see this series, I will tell you that Chapter Two (the episodes are named chapters) cleverly reframes the events from Chapter One from Higgins point of view. For him, the collective outrage swirling around the Pastiche party provides a point of entry into Winchester’s black community. He doesn’t feel a part of that community because he is grappling with being gay, which he hasn’t acted on yet. His “otherness” is more about his sexuality than his blackness. He feels left out and he hides behind his big Afro.
Higgins has formed an odd-couple relationship with his hot roommate Troy. But, most of his social interactions are with the staff at the student newspaper, especially his editor, the out and proud Silvio, who assumes Higgins is also gay. Higgins answers Silvio’s assumption by saying: “I really don’t subscribe to those kinds of labels.” Silvio tosses back:
“Those labels keep people in Florida from drinking Windex. You need to find your label! I’m a Mexican-Italian, gay, versatile, top, otter pup.”
Higgins’ response is: “I don’t know what any of that means…”
Silvio challenges Higgins to explore his identity as a gay black man. He invites Higgins to a party thrown by the Theater Department, and we know what that means. I thought, well I know where this is going: the confused gay guy learns a big life lesson from a theater queen, and embraces his queerness. But, nothing about this chapter plays out in a predictable way, including a scene that I was certain would demonstrate roommate Troy’s homophobia, but instead is a sweet, surprising scene where shirtless Troy cuts Higgin’s hair while they listen as The Softones’ 1973 sexy soul-jam classic My Dream plays on the stereo. As the chapter ends, you just know that Higgins has found his label.
Cutie D.J. Blickenstaff is Silvio, Luke O’Sullivan plays Theatre major Conner, who provides Higgins with his first man kiss, Brandon P. Bell and his eight-pack play Troy, and in an amazing, heartbreaking and heartwarming performance is DeRon Horton as Higgins.
By the way, Conservative Republicans and White Nationalists have called for a boycott of Dear White People and Netflix in general. That’s right, the same people who claim that broad labels like “racism” stifle free speech, are now bringing their own right-wing version of political correctness to try and shut down a television show they haven’t even seen. But, you should. A+.