Rarely is a medium of work overshone by its sequel, but Dear White People: Volume 2 is perhaps one of the most real, tough and heartbreaking sequels I’ve encountered. Series creator Justin Simien has clearly recognised the positive reception of the first volume and pushed the show to explore topics deeper, while also beginning conversations for other areas that twenty-first-century black students and other minorities face. If you haven’t watched either season, beware of spoilers in the following review as Volume 1 ended explosively, with little resolution.
Dear White People: Volume 2 begins with the aftermath of the climax of the first season. Following the town hall protest: Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell) faces the repercussions of breaking down the glass door after being locked out of the meeting, Lionel Higgins (DeRon Horton) finds that despite proof of the Hancock’s funding of “The Independent,” this does jack, and Samantha White (Logan Browning) faces the isolating struggle of being an activist and public figure whilst juggling the emotions of a break-up, her father’s ailing health, and an alt-right backlash in the form of online trolls.
Much like the previous season, each episode is dedicated to a character, allowing a diverse portrayal of blackness and intersectionality. Volume 2 however, takes it up a notch following the merging of Davis house residents into Armstrong-Parker’s (AP) black student body after a fire rendered the former unliveable. This essentially reverse integration is interesting as the white students have no issue imposing on AP students, even going so far as to take over common areas with little respect for AP’s students who would normally be using them.
This hints at how whiteness is a form of subconscious privilege, as if this situation were reversed, it would likely be reminiscent of desegregation in the 1970s, rather than AP students settling into their new home as quickly as the white student body are to take claim of theirs. However, this entire season arc is set essentially to show the escalating racial tensions in Winchester, as each character has much bigger issues to face.
Samantha White is unwillingly captured by the lure of an alt-right “AltIvyW” social media account which posts ill-informed and elitist comments and posts, turning us to a world that is all too familiar. Essentially she is triggered (as am I, 90% of the time I’m watching DWP). This inclusion of social media used as a way of debate is both troublesome and revolutionary, as social media has played a huge role in real-world politics during the last decade. It’s fantastic that Simien has recognised its importance, especially on a university campus.
Yet, it is written as a warning as I’m sure many of you can understand the lure of being drawn down the black hole that is debating with strangers on the Internet. As Sam finds, being drawn in does no one any good, despite her educated, and ‘woke’ responses. It becomes a screaming match against someone who hides behind an anonymous profile. Neither side will ever win and instead create an even larger divide.
During Volume 1, Reggie Green (Marque Richardson) and Lionel Higgins each are met with the reality of discrimination through standing face to face with a gun, and coming out, respectively. I applaud the continued discussions of these narratives as often following trauma a television character is seen to have a rough episode then bounce back, or a gay character’s problems are solved once they come out, as most of the struggle was internalised. Instead, Reggie is still suffering; there is no quick fix or cure, and Lionel doesn’t magically end up with a perfect boyfriend, fall in love and live happily ever after. These experiences are based in reality and are appropriately painful.
I’ve barely broken through the surface of what Dear White People: Volume 2 discusses throughout its run. It also deals with characters facing mental health issues, dating outside social circles, an unplanned pregnancy (perhaps the most realistic and definitely the most refreshing discussion in pop culture), and more.
Perhaps what keeps DWP interesting is how even during moments of intensity, each characters’ expressiveness is justified. They’re both emotional and intelligent. These Ivy League students aren’t just classroom savvy, they use big words in conversation and are aware of historical and current inequalities and issues with the ways to address this. I can barely follow the references of their arguments, let alone the speed of these discussions. I wouldn’t stand a chance against them in a debate.
With an exception, the season gets better as it ages. One of the final episodes deals with grief. It shows the different ways people approach it, and how as supportive as people try to be, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to grief. The moment our character is given this news I felt my heart stop and fully empathised as the way it was written hits a little close to home.
The exception to this “it gets better with age” narrative, in my opinion, is the entire secret societies narrative written throughout the volume. Was it a way to break the tension or add a bit of mystery? I don’t know but personally, I think this was a major drawback of DWP as everything else in this series is relevant, harsh and relatable. But it does also create intrigue for a third volume (if we get one), which I’ll be bingeing too, as Dear White People is full of flawed, three-dimensional characters who face their problems head-on, on top of battling underlying, systemic racism.
Dear White People: Volume 2
4 May 2018
5 hrs 6 mins