From Winchester to Gilead: Why DEAR WHITE PEOPLE is More Frustrating than THE HANDMAID’S TALE
It’s been a season of great television , so I’ve been keeping myself busy in regards to catching up on my favorite shows. One of my most anticipated shows of this season…or perhaps of all time was Dear White People. I loved the movie, adored Season 1 and have waited over a year for the followup. To me, the show has been one of the most emotionally impactful shows I have ever watched. Prior to Dear White People, I hadn’t really seen my thoughts and experiences depicted on screen before.
From the beginning, Dear White People has become one of pop culture’s most polarizing properties. Prior to the original film’s release, there was an immediate backlash. Prior to the film, few shows were as bold in calling out today’s young people and their acts of cultural appropriation, microaggressions, and overall racist tendencies. After the success of the film, Dear White People was able to live on as a Netflix series. Let’s face it, the show wouldn’t be able to exist anywhere else. Remember the recent controversy surrounding Blackish and its episode dealing with kneeling during the national anthem?
Following the aftermath of the 2016 election, I wondered how creator Justin Simien and the DWP writers were going to tackle the subject. As expected- they delivered. While the current administration was not explicitly mentioned, it was heavily alluded to in the interactions between the characters and various scenarios. The DWP team completely obliterated the rise of internet bullies, racism on college campuses, police brutality towards Black men, and much more.
A major plot point is Sam’s (Logan Browning) ongoing battle with an internet troll called AltIvyW. He constantly attacks Sam and her views, as well as her mixed heritage. He also spews many other opinions mirroring those of the far-right.
AltIvyW’s attacks embolden many other students on campus- which includes a podcast called Dear Right People. In a scene, we get to hear their thoughts:
“Why does the left dictate who gets to be oppressed? I mean if Gays and Blacks can have a march, why can’t Gordon?”
“Why do we have to suffer just because we were born white and straight and…normal?
“A straight white guy march? Can you imagine the vitriol? That’s oppression.”
The students even talk about how rape-culture is a myth, how Black student origanizations are code for “white genocide”, and talk about how they can’t wait to live in a world where AltIvyW can show his face. While Dear White People is meant to be a satire, this scene is one of the most disturbing.
While this scene was entirely fictional, I could feel my blood boiling. It mirrors the thoughts of many individuals in this country- which allowed for the rise of the current administration and the explosion in racial tension. While the Dear Right People podcasters state that AltIvyW inspired them, in the next scene Sam completely breaks down for the first time. AltIvyW sends a horrifying racist message stating that Sam’s father ruined her by “fucking a monkey”. AltIvyW’s attacks are entirely online, so everyone can see the abuse Sam in enduring. The saddest thing of all, is that some students are amused and even run with it. They take joy in the pain that it is inflicted on Sam.
In order to create a discussion about the tense climate on campus, the Black Caucus and CORE decide to bring in host and activist Carson Rhodes (Tyler James Williams) while another group decides to invite Rikki Carter (Tessa Thompson) a controversial right-wing political commentator (Not unlike Tomi Lahren or Stacey Dash). When CORE fails to secure funding for Carson Rhodes, only Rikki Carter remains. Rikki Carter is used as a tool by the right-wing students to promote “diversity”. It’s almost as if they are trying to use her an excuse to say that America is post-racial (Looks towards Kanye West). Nikki knows this, as she admits it to Sam.
This reminded me of when Tomi Lahren was invited to my college campus by Turning Point (a Conservative non-profit organization) as a means to discuss the importance of “hearing other’s views” and to promote the concepts of “free speech, tolerance, and the diversity of thought.”
Here’s a question though, was this really diversity of thought if Tomi is voicing the opinions of a primarily white institution, located in one of the most conservative states in the country…? AND this was after the election! Also some food for thought: When it comes to discussing the importance of hearing other’s views, why bring in someone who’s whole platform grew from shutting down and mocking others’ views?
Well this is the same school where football fans booed band members when they kneeled during the national anthem. Instead of defending students’ rights to free speech, the band’s officials stated they would not tolerate kneeling. This was a few months before Tomi’s appearance and prior to the election. In 2019, my university was home to Trump’s latest rally, where the audience chanted, “SEND HER BACK!” Not surprisingly, they didn’t really condemn the comments.
While seeing the events of Season 2 unravel, I was saddened, enraged, and disappointed. All of the events seemed coincidentally familiar. As much as some people would like to think that racism is behind us, there are signs everywhere that racism never went away and might not ever leave.
While this opinion might be a strange one, Dear White People is more frustrating than The Handmaid’s Tale. While The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a world we could live in, Dear White People depicts the world we currently live in. Although Dear White People uses a lot of humor to critique society, the reality isn’t as funny.
During the explosive reveal of AltIvyW’s true identity, he states:
“I’ve tapped into something that so many people are feeling and they’re ashamed into hiding it. That’s bullshit! If Sam gets a platform for her ideas, why shouldn’t they? What happened to our old pal the First Amendment?”
BOOM. That’s how we are in the situation we are in right now. Several commentators described the current administration’s success as a backlash to the Obama presidency. While Gabe is questioning Sam, he asks if her aggressive behavior paved the path for AltIvyW and his followers. It’s a good thing to consider.
Going further, the attitudes expressed in Dear White People aren’t too different from the seeds of thought that brought forth the Sons of Jacob in The Handmaid’s Tale. Gilead was born from conservative men and women who wanted to restore the United States from “sin”. During flashbacks in the series, the Sons of Jacob and its supporters hid in the shadows until the time came for them to strike.
The Handmaid’s Tale depicts very few people of color in the series. In the books their absence is explained by the fact that the masterminds behind Gilead were racist- of course. Well, they were mega conservative with a warped view of Christianity. You think they would accept people of color in their new world order? In the book, people of color were implied to have been forcibly relocated or even killed. That’s a bit to think about- isn’t it? The events in The Handmaid’s Tale aren’t too far-fetched as we see the emboldened attitudes of those who believe in “making American great again.”
Dear White People showcases these attitudes a bit too well. As mentioned earlier, there is constant hatred thrown towards creator Justin Simien as well as the actors, writers, and anyone else who participated in the series’ production. It’s all just a sad reminder of the supposedly post-racial world we live in. And due to the state of politics, the trolls aren’t backing down. Blinded by their own worldview, adversaries of Dear White People are only justifying the existence of the series. As long as they exist, Dear White People will continue to live on.
This post was originally published on The Cinema Soloist on May 6th, 2018.