On the 8th of February, Netflix posted a date announcement clip for their new original series Dear White People on Youtube, which was based on Justin Simien’s 2014 film of the same name. The teaser was a thirty second clip in which the protagonist, played by Logan Browning, essentially tells white people to not wear blackface, then there is a cut to images of people at a party wearing blackface, African American people looking as though they are reacting to the image, and then there is a final cut to a clip from a party in which a central character from the original films knocks over a sound system. The video basically shows reenacted scenes from the original film, which leads to the conclusion that the series will follow similar storylines and characters as the original film. So how is it possible that people are so incensed about the release of this series that they see cancelling their Netflix subscription as a necessary act of principle?
Predominantly white right-wing internet commentators have made claims that this short clip promotes ‘white genocide,’ and ‘racism’ against white people (the mere use of these terms shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what genocide and racism are and how they work). The backlash to this teaser trailer has been vast, echoing the outrage from right-wing groups towards the all-female Ghostbusters remake in the uneven ratio between likes and dislikes on their respective Youtube trailers. The main grounds that these people have for being outraged by the teaser for Dear White People is that they deem it ‘patronising’ that we are being told to not to wear black face, and also that blackface basically doesn’t happen anymore. One Youtube commentator even makes this point whilst wearing black face. Had they taken the time to read Jason Simien’s article, readily available on his Facebook page, they would have discovered that he was unsure about involving a black-themed party scene but was inspired to keep the idea when he read about a real life party that took place at UC San Diego, which they called a ‘Compton Cookout.’ So yes, blackface really does happen, as do racist events on campuses and even celebrities feel that it is ok for them to do it.
The commentators have a lot to say about a very short clip, yet have clearly not taken time out of their day to watch the original film, which doesn’t essentialise by race but has a nuanced view of race identity and performativity, addressing these issues in both black and white characters. It seems comically clear that these people are not concerned with how race is presented in the clip or film, they’re just offended by the title and being told not to wear blackface by a black woman looking directly at the white viewer. Right-wing commentators are offended without even listening to what the series and film are trying to say about race, they demand that the series be decommissioned and not released because they don’t want to listen to what people of colour have to say, which once again reinstates the fact that they make impassioned pleas for freedom of speech when bigots are disinvited from speaking at universities, but refuse to listen to people of colour when are finally given a platform to speak. Freedom of speech but only when it suits the conservative white supremacist ideology.
Figures show that there has been no major decline in Netflix stock since the release of the trailer.
Read Jason Simien’s account on his creative and naming process here.
The show will be streaming via Netflix on April 28th.