'Dear White People': TV Review | SXSW 2017

Courtesy of Netflix/Adam Rose
Every bit as sharply witty — and more focused — than the 2014 feature.
4/28/2017

Justin Simien's 2014 feature about college campus race relations transfers to series format on Netflix without losing any of its satirical edge.

Retaining all of its razor-sharp wit and then some, Dear White People, Justin Simien’s acclaimed 2014 big-screen satire of racial relations and identity set at a fictional Ivy League college, has transferred impressively to TV (Netflix), based on the first two episodes previewed at SXSW.

Although there have been casting changes, most of the memorable characters are back from the feature, which introduced a fresh, cuttingly droll voice in writer-director Simien, who knows how to coax laughter from viewers while gamely holding a mirror up to hypocrisy and other assorted inconvenient truths.

Also arriving intact is the general plot set-up, involving a blackface party held at the predominantly white Winchester University that has further fanned tensions among the resident activists of the historically African-American Armstrong-Parker House.

The first episode is seen primarily through the eyes of Samantha “Sam” White (Logan Browning, very capably taking over from the film’s breakout star, Tessa Thompson), who has earned a reputation for pointing out bullshit wherever she sees it, tartly calling out transgressors on her daily campus radio show Dear White People.

But she finds herself being taken to task after she has a hook-up with her white TA, Gabe (John Patrick Amadori), her rationale that she happens to be bi-racial not cutting it with a girlfriend who reminds her: “You’re not Rashida Jones bi-racial, you’re Tracee Ellis Ross bi-racial!”

The subject of sexual identity comes into play in the second episode, in which sweetly nerdy, closeted school newspaper reporter Lionel Higgins (DeRon Horton, taking the reins from Tyler James Williams) is coming to terms with his attraction to his studly straight roommate, Troy (a returning Brandon P Bell).

In presenting essentially the same chain of events, Rashomon-style, in Chapters I and II of the 10-episode series, Simien has effectively addressed criticism over the decidedly more scattershot approach favored by the feature; that sharper focus serves the new format well. Whether or not similarly self-contained points of view are carried out in future episodes, Simien and his welcome, unique voice look to be in very good hands in their new Netflix home.

Cast: Logan Browning, DeRon Horton, Marque Richardson, Antoinette Robertson, Brandon P. Bell, Ashley Blaine Featherson
Creator: Justin Simien (based on the 2014 film of the same name)
Premieres: Friday, April 28 (Netflix)

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