#NoNetflix: The Problem with ‘Dear White People’ & Review of 2014 ‘Dear White People’

[[Spoiler Alert of original film 2014]]

So in recent media News.. Netflix have a new soon to be released series: ‘Dear White People’; available to stream from April 28th. This series is a remake of the Netflix (2014) ‘Dear White People’ movie by filmmaker Justin Simien. This past week the announcement of the new series to be released on Netflix has caused a stir and has been trending on social media. There has been an outpour of shock, horror and rage from the alt-right white supremacists identifying people, also just random white Netflix users have been closing or cancelling their Netflix accounts in protest of this series with hashtags #NoNetflix and encouraging other users to follow suit. As it’s believed to promote ‘anti-whiteness’, ‘white genocide’, ‘racism’, etc … Pause. cue eye roll.

To give a bit of context, The film ‘ Dear White People’ basically follows black mixed-race college student Sam White, who hosts a radio show about being a minority while attending a largely white university. The show’s trailer teases White’s broadcast about acceptable Halloween costumes which include the inexcusable dressing up in black face. The film consists of a group of individuals from the black community all on their own journey like the main character and we follow them all through their individual navigations of a mostly white and fictitious college attempting to tackle stereotypes and institutional racism, it also apparently won several awards..

The first time I watched the movie in 2014, I just didn’t get it. I was confused and bored. I also thought maybe I just don’t get it? Maybe I don’t know enough, but also it was unsettling in a way I had yet the words to describe. The second time round I gave it a go last year and I understood a lot more this time round and could analyse and reflect more in depth. It was another wasted opportunity, basically.

It’s important at this stage to say I’m speaking from a black mixed-race british perspective, as I know the black American experience is different and is reflected within the film,but there are many things the whole black diaspora could supposedly identify within this film. Dear White People had potential, it had potential to touch on complex and multi-layered issues; not to say the movie didn’t bring them to light, such as the racist sorority parties, the consistent micro-aggressions, the institution, which it did at least! Here in the UK we deal with many of these complexities on a daily basis too and they manifest in many shapes and forms.

Here is the problem: having a black mixed-race protagonist of this movie is the first big problem. Especially an identifying women having an identity crisis. This is tiring, I’m already tired knowing that again for the series they will be using a light skinned main character again. Again, perpetuating this narrative of all mixed-race identities never feeling enough, sad and ‘woes me the poor mixed-race person’ the ‘tragic Mulatta’ trope. Sigh.

Not saying that casting light skinned or mixed race identities is a problem, but it is when they are ALWAYS the main character and on top of that, basic, with a sense of not belonging and having to be someone they are not to fit in.

Ok, so it may be reflecting the filmmakers experience, but why a woman? Why not a male having this experience as I see so few of the portrayal of mixed race men experiencing this, I think also this may be because they actually don’t experience this and predominantly identify as black or not?  It seems also that (circulated by the media) that it’s just a women’s problem, perhaps it’s because I see it or hear this more from women, but it’s there, it’s present. Why not touch on this topic instead of continue the same old dead narrative centered around whiteness?

Which is what I believe the movie is, centered around whiteness, which is what conversation on mixed race folk are almost all of the time. Which is funny to me, as the title is ‘Dear White People’ whilst centering them throughout…But it’s not just the main character, all characters evolve around the narrative and their relationship with whiteness. Like this is actually needed to make sense, or I guess for it to be accessible to those ‘white people’ it’s intended for. I guess that makes me think that, to actually make the movies that address so many problematic issues the script must centre whiteness for it to even be accessible… not to forget the portrayal of the other pro-black characters seen as hyper militant and always angry and constantly on standby, leaning on the main character’s ‘leadership’ for guidance.

All portrayals are stereotypical, I just remember thinking ‘Am I actually learning anything here?’ or ‘wow, that’s sick that they touch on this topic that’s never talked about…’ It just seemed to revolve around the main character’s relationship with the white guy in her class and her choosing to conceal her feelings for him and then eventually accepting herself by saying “I don’t want to be everyone’s angry black woman anymore”, I guess it highlights the privileges that mixed women have by actually being able to say such a thing and also just deciding to put her blackness to the side. The reality is, for dark skinned black women this is not a possibility, they can’t do such a thing; letting her hair down in its natural state, accepting her feelings for the white guy and no-longer being the activist leader or voice for the pro-black group…is that it?

Whilst I myself may have identified at some point with many of the narratives in this movies, hell, even the main storyline, this cannot be an ends in itself..and also the portrayal of darker skinned black women as just wanting to get closer the whiteness is just..

To sum up, I truly hope that maybe with the series the filmmaker may have the space to flesh out these complex identities and navigations more, but when I saw the main protagonist again of a lighter complexion, I flinched. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Words by Tiff.