With all of the noise surrounding Netflix originals like “Stranger Things” and “The Crown,” some of the streaming service’s quality outputs can be overlooked. “Dear White People,” now in its second season, is one of those diamonds in the rough. In its premiere season, “Dear White People” proved itself worthy of recognition as a witty, fast-paced show, full of interesting characters who are used to explore relevant topics. The first season ended with a pointed look at police brutality when one of the main characters stared down the barrel of a campus police officer’s gun after a scuffle at a house party.
In its sophomore season, “Dear White People” begins in the aftermath of this event and explores its impact on each individual character. Following the format of last season, the first few episodes of the season focus on the same time period, but from the perspective of different characters. Distinct styles of filming and framing complement these personal narratives. Main character Sam (Logan Browning, “Hit the Floor”) is often positioned in the corner of the screen, with emphasis on what goes on in the background of this very determined woman’s life. Other characters like Reggie (Marque Richardson, “Step Sisters”), the focus of episode two, are stuck in a Wes Anderson-like symmetry. In one particularly impactful image, Reggie walks purposefully between two portraits of white founders of his fictitious Ivy League college.
While this characterization was an obvious strength of the series as soon as it premiered, the second season brings this development to another level. Just in the first three episodes, “Dear White People” adds important nuances to already deeply examined characters like Sam and Reggie, while shading in previously untouched aspects of characters like the shy yet mighty, Lionel (DeRon Horton, “Shotgun”). The show goes beyond the exterior impact of these characters—Sam’s radio show, Reggie’s activism, Lionel’s writing—and shows the true, personal impact of being a Black student on a primarily white campus in a nation where Nazis and white supremacists are being given a platform.
Each character is forced to deal with personal issues as they put-on a strong face. Sam is brutally harassed by an online troll, Reggie grapples with PTSD following his close encounter with the police officer and Lionel struggles to adapt to his newfound community of gay men. “Dear White People” shows viewers that the people we rely on for activism and expect to stay “woke” are still hurting and impacted by the hate and obstacles they face. Beyond the deeply ingrained systemic issues these black men and women have to face, they also must deal with the everyday issues that everybody faces: Online bullies, relationship problems, roommate issues and more mundane problems that pile on top of lifelong disadvantages.
As “Dear White People” takes on a society wrestling with the alt-right movement rising in tandem with racial tensions, it brings to light the inner lives of the people fighting these things. In times of chaos, the burden of a solution too often falls on the people already affected by the oppression.