Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 10/27/21
The Woker Years. Co-created by Ava DuVernay and Colin Kaepernick, Netflix‘s six-episode limited series Colin in Black & White chronicles Kaepernick’s coming of age in the early 2000s as a half African-American child (according to Wikipedia his birth mother was white) adopted into a white family. We meet Young Colin (Jaden Michael) as a high school athlete, well before he became a household name as a controversial NFL quarterback and social justice activist. Nick Offerman and Mary-Louise Parker play his well-meaning but mostly clueless parents Rick and Teresa. Kaepernick himself appears as the present-day narrator of his own story. The show drops this Friday
IMHO: Let me say upfront that I was not one of those offended by Colin’s “take a knee” stance before NFL games that reverberated around countless media echo chambers a few years back. I actually thought he was bringing attention to a legitimate issue regarding several incidents involving disturbing interactions between law enforcement and the African-American community – and, frankly, didn’t understand why kneeling during the National Anthem is a sign of disrespect. I always thought kneeling was a sign of respect and his kneeling was a gesture of disappointment rather than disrespect. I had absolutely no problem with that. I do have a problem with this show though.
The problem with Colin in Black and White is right in the title. To Colin everything is black and white in a world with no nuance and where he’s the perpetual victim. His self-centered, pretentious and sanctimonious narration greatly detracts from a strong screen presence by Jaden Michael who has real star potential if he can find better projects than this.
Over six episodes we learn that life has just been one slight after another for Colin who has been unfairly treated at every turn. We also learn virtually nothing about any of the supporting characters. Unlike the similarly themed, much better and recently rebooted from a black perspective Wonder Years, the only person in this show with a backstory, point of view and feelings that matter is Colin. Colin the Narrator seems to be working through several anger issues on Netflix’s dime but that, unfortunately, doesn’t translate into good television. The show plays like a straight humor-free version of Eddie Murphy‘s classic SNLvideo White Like Me.
As I see it, Colin in Black in White takes a fashionable-but-psychologically unhealthy approach to tackling very real issues in a way that does nothing to facilitate mutual understanding. Indeed, fostering resentment and animosity appears to be the objective. It’s like a misery loves company approach. I walk around mad at the world and so should you.
It’s interesting that Colin in Black and White arrives just as another African-American social commentator – superstar comedian Dave Chappelle – is under fire by some trans activists upset over his recent Netflix stand-up special The Closer. They want him canceled from Netflix – and, apparently, everything. BTW, I saw the special and I didn’t come away thinking he was anti-anybody. Meanwhile, some would say critics of Kaepernick’s knee protest got him canceled from the NFL. Others say he wasn’t that all that good a quarterback and probably would have been dropped anyway. I, frankly, don’t know or care enough about football to know which is true – maybe a little of both but, again, I have no idea.
What I do know though is that I personally think it’s high time we all spent less time trying to cancel people and more time listening to one another. As Desiderata says “Listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.” The funny thing is, when you listen to them, you may discover they’re not so dull and ignorant after all.
Or to quote Dave Chappelle during last year’s Netflix interview with David Letterman (beginning at the 3:11 mark): “We’re countrymen. All of us. We live in America. We all got our problems. Our strifes. It’s weird now because this game of who’s suffered more that everyone keeps getting the ball and they act like everyone’s suffering is mutually exclusive of everyone else’s. And you and I both know that’s far from the case. There’s a lot of angles that you could approach this and look at this and learn from each other.” There’s wisdom there.
I don’t doubt that Colin has his story – but so does everybody. Colin doesn’t seem to get that. That his show comes across as a tedious exercise in self-absorption doesn’t help me, as a viewer, to want listen to what he has to say. Again, it would be nice if he cared enough to let us know a little bit about the backstory of some of the other people in his life – but their stories are apparently of absolutely no interest to him. From what I can see here, he never really looks at anything from anyone else’s point of view. If he showed a little empathy toward others he might receive more of it himself. I kinda feel bad for him.
The Bottom Line: Sad to say Colin in Black and White is pretentious and boring.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11