When Netflix announced that it was turning the independent film “Dear White People” into a series, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I had been a part of donating to the Indiegogo campaign when the movie was just a trailer on YouTube, which debuted in 2014, created by ’05 Chapman alumnus Justin Simien.
The movie, however, didn’t live up to my expectations. While there were quirky inside jokes that spoke to my culture, the satirical film as a whole left me unsatisfied. The characters were complex, but two hours was not enough to explore their stories while also trying to uncover the inherent ways systemic racism breeds at a predominantly white institution. One of those goals was bound to fall flat.
I began my binge-watch at a friend’s house at 11 p.m. April 28 – the day the show premiered – and I finished the season in less than 24 hours. This new adaptation gave me exactly what had been missing in the movie – character development – while also going even further to look not only at the white students’ roles, but the role of the administration, whose concerns were based on profit and reputation over that of the satisfaction of their students, particularly the small population of students of color. Each episode specifically focuses on a character and their experiences, showing the complexities and relatable personalities of Black students at predominantly white institutions.
The setting took on the same independent feel that the movie did, but the cast had changed almost entirely, even though the characters were the same. The plot of the movie leads up to the throwing of a black-face party by an on-campus fraternity, and the TV show uses each episode to uncover the mindset of each character before and after this horrendous event.
The show definitely has strong Chapman roots. Former junior political science major Kyle Butenhoff makes an appearance with a funny one-liner in the third episode. It’s clear to me that Simien’s Chapman experience directly influenced the script, but so did other Black experiences. “Chapter IV” focuses on Colandrea “Coco” Conners and her desire to fit in by joining a Black sorority. The show poked fun at the exclusivity of a specific sorority by using the name “Alpha Delta” and sporting pink and green colors.
“Dear White People” also took a deep look at misogyny and queerphobia within the Black community. Lionel Higgins is a queer character caught up in a fantasy love affair with his straight roommate. Simien allows Higgins to explore his sexuality while also navigating heteronormative spaces.
While the themes of the show are serious, the satirical elements and inside jokes will keep you laughing until there aren’t any episodes left. Whether it’s hate-watching “Defamation,” rooting for Samantha White in her love triangle or wondering what ridiculous thing a white character is going to say next, “Dear White People” will keep your attention until the last second. Then, you’ll be wondering why Netflix only made 10 episodes.