Logan Browning in Dear White People.
Photo: Patrick McElhenney/Netflix
Dear White People – Volume 4
WHERE TO WATCH:
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
It’s ten years after the events of senior year, and Sam and Lionel are reminiscing about it with their friends and classmates to write a book and create a TV show about it.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
The Dear White People film and the eventual first few seasons of the series were significant. They caused uncomfortable conversations about race in America as good satire often does. But season four has been released at an awkward time; post the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter marches of June 2020, it feels as if a lot of the topics of discussion have been part of the discourse for the past year and a half. And with some of the satire falling flat, the show seems to be lost as to what it is trying to say in its final season.
That is not to say that all the themes of season four did not land because there were plenty of interesting topics discussed. The biggest of these was about new waves of activism. A new character that is introduced this season is Iesha (Joi Liaye). Iesha is a freshman who openly takes on Sam (Logan Browning) as not being radical enough in her fight against the establishment.
This season centres around the group’s senior year at college and, more specifically, on the Varsity Show that they put on. The Varsity Show is a variety show put on by specific groups at the college, and for the first time (post-the BLM movement), they are allowing it to be organised by the majority black lodging, AP House. Iesha organises a protest against the Varsity Show, which most of the characters are participating in as she sees it as a form of a minstrel show. To make matters worse, the building where the Varsity Show is held is named after a former slave owner. The storyline between Iesha and Sam is interesting because it shows that even if you see yourself as radical, the younger generation will come through with even more radical ideas. It serves both generations to learn from each other.
Season four was developed as a 90-minute musical. The story starts ten years in the future when Sam visits Lionel (DeRon Horton) at a book signing. They are under quarantine again, and the two are forced to have a conversation. Sam wants Lionel to write a book about their final year, which she would adapt into a musical television series (how incredibly meta). The Varsity Show is based on a 90s RnB jukebox musical, and the entire season is developed like this. But it doesn’t work as well as it does for other shows like Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist; it seems clunky and out of place. For me, the best performances are the ones done in the play within the show, except Marque Richardson’s (who plays Reggie) performance of Jamiroquai’s Virtual Insanity, which had him tap dancing at a gun range. It was incredibly powerful.
One of my favourite characters of the first three seasons was Coco (Antoinette Robertson) and her story about being a dark-skinned black woman who went from wanting to separate herself from her disadvantaged past to growing to accept herself and her background. Coco’s ambition and the way she dealt with racism and misogyny from within the system was so compelling to watch. However, in season four, they take her out of Winchester College and put her in a type of Big Brother house, called ‘Big House’ with other college students. In the house, she has her own set of problems, such as not being perceived as the ‘angry black woman’ and competing against the other black contestants. However, I think it was a disservice to take one of their strongest characters out of the game. I would much rather have watched Coco’s journey in her final year of college and try to balance her ambitions with having fun.
The three main characters are arguably Sam, Lionel, and Troy (Brandon P. Bell), but they seem the most lost in season four out of all the characters. Sam and Lionel go through make-ups and break-ups with their partners, and Troy deals with drama with his mother. We see very little about Troy’s huge push in season three to start his own humour magazine.
Season three also featured Lionel exploring his sexuality as a gay, black man, and season four just focused on his relationship with Michael (Wade F. Wilson). And by the time the show ends, with them in the future, you don’t feel as if much has changed in the trios’ lives.
The best character arc is by far Reggie’s. From where he started in season one (one can also argue that his character’s journey began in the Dear White People film) to the character’s last scene, he seems the most developed, the most redeemed, and his storyline seemed the most thought out. You can see a clear line from the effects of season one when a security guard pulled a gun on him at a party to what happens to him in the finale, and it is compelling. Marque Richardson also does an excellent job in his performance as Reggie.
Dear White People started out as a social satire about the premise of collegiate life being post-racial since the election of Barack Obama. Since then, the world has shown that racism is no longer subtext; it’s hardwired, it’s out loud, and they are willing to talk about it. That’s not to say there is no need for Dear White People; the show has definitely depicted some interesting talking points over the last four seasons. But something about this season just didn’t bring enough gravitas – especially since it was their final season.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: