Dear White People is a confounding beast to watch as a young black person. On the one hand, the show occupies a vital space in the world of TV and is at times uproariously entertaining. On the other hand, it still is a show that gets bogged down by its own indulgences and throws so much at you that you can’t really settle in.
Let’s start with the pleasantries. What I think I appreciate with this show is its style. There’s a unifying directorial approach, but if an episode calls for something extra, they’re not afraid to do it. Look no further than the Kimberly Pierce directed episode 4 which includes several shots that won’t be repeated but is all the more brilliant for the bad ass single take it ends on. Episode 6 is the standout episode for me. Lionel is not my favorite character on the show, but his journey as a gay man has always been compelling. Watching him try and solve for whom the AltIvyW account user is with one of my fave characters Brooke while also navigating a new relationship was wonderful.
One of the major issues I had with the show this season is that in going so in-depth with its many characters, it sometimes forgets its setting, a university. Having gone to two PWIs, I do find it hard to believe that the fictional Winchester University these students go to isn’t going to make some sort of formal response during the many, many incidents that befall its minority students. Even if that response is weak, like it is with the cop who pulled the gun on Reggie (Reggie talking with Troy’s father and seeing the cop is one of the show’s best scenes) there still would be a response. Sam getting all that shit from trolls and those bananas? That alt-right podcast? A university would say something. Dear White People misses the mark often in the second season in trying to make the university this mythical thing but forgets that it is an active power in the world of these characters. There’s so much interesting commentary to be made there but the show doesn’t use it’s setting like it should.
Which brings me to a larger issue and that’s one of authenticity. Creator Justin Simien has done a really good translating his movie to TV, but there is just an element of something that keeps me from embracing the show fully. The artifice of how the characters dress, speak, and act often runs the opposite direction of the themes the show works hard to get into. Sam’s dealing with the trolls is an inspired story and in later episodes, the show really knocks this out of the park. But a character that headstrong replying to trolls so much she doesn’t go to class or shower? Additionally, I don’t care that these characters are dating white people, I do mind that for 4 out of 5 main characters are in relationships of convenience (for storytelling reasons) with white or white passing characters and that your characters are using the word cock to describe a penis. Not one black person I have ever met, PWI, HBCU, or non-college educated says that. It’s these tiny things that compound into bigger things the more the show goes on and keep me from fully raving about the show like others.