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Showtime is billing Sacha Jenkins’ new docuseries Everything’s Gonna Be All White — or everything’s gonna be all… white if you prefer your typography to be cutesy — as three parts, plus a bonus episode.
This is an odd choice of focus. The three episodes of Everything’s Gonna Be All White are a solid if formally inconsistent attempt to tackle the racial history of America in discipline-spanning socio-economic-cultural terms. It makes some smart connections and is full of worthy insights, but I’d never recommend it over HBO’s similar Exterminate All the Brutes or a dozen PBS docuseries covering the same terrain.
Everything's Gonna Be All White
Airdate: 8 p.m. Friday, February 11 (Showtime)
Director: Sacha Jenkins
The so-called “bonus” episode, however, feels like an extremely perceptive distillation of what worked and didn’t work in the series proper, and it functions as a template for an ambitious regular panel show on race that Showtime should probably order to series immediately.
Jenkins, a longtime journalist whose Showtime credits include recent documentaries on the Wu-Tang Clan and Rick James, may be a year or two behind the moment when Everything’s Gonna Be All White would have been groundbreaking, but he still has his finger on a general cultural pulse. If you’ve followed recent (or semi-recent) coverage of Whoopi Goldberg’s Holocaust faux pas, accusations of colorism against the movie version of In the Heights, ongoing discussion of the 1619 Project or the never-ending name controversy with the NFL’s Washington Commanders, Jenkins and his wide-ranging group of expert talking heads provide useful context and clarity. Sometimes they address the headlines directly and sometimes they offer nuance that too often gets lost in our soundbite culture.
Everything’s Gonna Be All White isn’t as rigorous as the Marxist critique Raoul Peck presented in Exterminate All the Brutes, but you can see a similar desire to bring together as many of today’s conversations in a way that ties them into ongoing and globe-spanning debates. His broad focus is on the ways Americans approach history and the way history impacts America in 2022, and those with open minds will find his points on everything from the evolution of our system of racial classification to the baked-in racism of myriad American institutions to be persuasive.
But there’s a strong sense that Jenkins doesn’t care how persuasive you find the series if you come in disagreeing. Centering the perspective of people of color, the series rather emphatically trolls the white fragility that Jenkins argues fueled the January 6 failed insurrection, and that will cause more than a few people to watch the trailer for Everything’s Gonna Be All White (or just look at its title) and start immediately whining about reverse racism without watching a single second of the actual series.
Jenkins seems completely comfortable making even people who agree with him uncomfortable, reifying a near-parodic version of whiteness that is, presumably, a direct response to what white representations of history did to people of color for centuries. The series is practically begging sympathetic white viewers to be all, “Wait, not ALL white people!”, perhaps hoping that that reaction will be followed by, “Ugh. I just became That Guy.”
Oh, and maybe — and by “maybe” I mean “absolutely” — discomfort is exactly what you should feel whenever you interrogate American history and how we tell it.
Jenkins’ experts include academics, cultural commentators, artists and more than a few activists whose on-screen chyrons list them as founders of different community organizations. For the most part, these aren’t just people who professionally appear in documentaries like this, but rather people who are out in the streets doing the work. Jenkins also includes two fictionalized racial constructs — Michael Kaves as “Mad Chad” and Liza Jessie Patterson as “Radical Rhonda” — who show up explicitly to give performative and dogmatic statements on race, without being identified as scripted composites until the closing credits.
Mad Chad and Radical Rhonda didn’t especially work for me — not because I didn’t see their purpose but because they’re inconsistently utilized across the three episodes, to the point that the comic insight they provide fails to compensate for the distraction of their artificiality. The first episode in particular feels like it’s struggling to find an aesthetic and presentational approach to the argument, but each subsequent episode grows more confident. Later highlights include rappers Roxanne Shante and Havoc wandering through the Queensbridge projects talking about the failures of American public housing and then, in the third hour, a group of Black photographers talking about their respective missions to empower the Black gaze.
Those latter segments inform the so-called “bonus” episode, which is almost like a blending of Phil Donahue and Desus & Mero, which is to say entirely my jam. Here, Jenkins sits a new panel of experts in a semi-circle in front of a bodega set and shows them footage of reports from the field — a Black group dedicated to the 2nd Amendment, former NBA star Al Harrington talking about his new career as a weed entrepreneur, etc. — to provoke conversation. The filmed segments, several produced by LA-based rapper Murs, are so tightly made and the back-and-forths they instigate are so inclusive and high-energy that you wonder if, without the pandemic as a factor, more of Everything’s Gonna Be All White would have followed this format.
Because Showtime presented the “bonus” episode as such an afterthought, I almost skipped it entirely, but once I started watching, I plowed through the full 54 minutes without hesitation. There’s value in the three main episodes of Everything’s Gonna Be All White, but there are comparable docs I’d suggest first. The bonus episode? I strongly urge Showtime to order 13 episodes in this format, which isn’t like anything else on TV.
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