Ripping stories straight from the headlines is a delicate tightrope act for television shows. Without artistry, this kind of storytelling can devolve into lazy jokes and cheap moralizing. However, if done properly, issues can be brought into sharp focus with the commentary to match. Netflix‘s Dear White People leans into that gamble and has managed to nail the balance two seasons in a row. The stylish satire takes the experiences of black students at a largely white (fictional) Ivy League university and gives them real-world weight despite the witty delivery.
The first season focused on a campus cop pulling a gun on an unarmed black man — Reggie, played by Maque Richardson — at a college party, white students donning blackface, and the protests that follow. The second season keeps these themes in play, showing what happens in the fallout when the campus “goes back to normal,” but also adds in racist alt-right internet trolls and Fox News-esque talking heads and their ability to keep tensions enflamed. As Sam (Logan Browning), arguably the show’s main protagonist, finds herself in yet another flame war on Twitter, many viewers will probably cringe in recognition at the bots and MAGA accounts that have made social media even more unbearable at times.
When it was first announced, some Netflix users balked at the title and claimed that the series “promoted white genocide,” canceling their accounts in retaliation. However, if they had rejected that knee-jerk reaction and actually watched the series, they would have witnessed a nuanced take on modern race relations that sought to exposed centuries of wounds instead of merely screaming at “the other.” Maybe they still would have taken issue with the content, maybe they wouldn’t. But in a world where shows like the freshly-canceled Roseanne and the just-revived Last Man Standing dominate the news cycle, Dear White People feels like an eloquent and steadfast rebuke of the status quo.