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    May 9, 2017

    Here's Why You Won't Be Able To Get Enough Of The Characters In "Dear White People"

    The Netflix original series adds a level depth and nuance to its black millennial characters that we don't get to see in the original film or anywhere in TV land.

    Colandrea "Coco" Conners (Antoinette Robertson)

    Adam Rose

    Unlike the Whitley Gilberts, Lisa Turtles, and Hilary Bankses of ’90s past, Coco isn't your typical "bad and boujee" black girl TV character. She has their fashion taste and Olivia Pope's ambition, but a background from South Side Chicago that sets her apart from that troop as well as her fellow classmates on the show.

    "We’ve either seen affluent girls grow up to be successful women or we’ve seen who grew up impoverished and decided to stay true to their social settings. And then there’s Coco, who is a wonderful blend of both," said Robertson. "Her perspective on race relations and police brutality are different from someone who was sheltered her entire life and never experienced that. People make the assumption that because she carries herself a certain way and has white friends that she isn’t woke and has no understanding of what police brutality is and how it works, but she’s aware of the disadvantages that people of color experience when they go up against a system that wasn’t created to benefit them."

    Coco's beliefs on self-preservation provide an interesting foil to Sam and the black caucus who are militant, but also didn't grow up watching friends and family suffer the consequences of getting on the police's bad side. "[Coco's belief is] you don’t rage against the machine to create change; her way is by finding her way into the White House, into the rooms where these bills are being passed. She's going to find another way to create change, lasting change, and she doesn't think screaming 'rah-rah' and putting up a poster is going to do it," explained Robertson.

    Samantha White (Logan Browning)

    Adam Rose

    Sam is Coco's foil, down to the effort they put into their hair (Sam braids her long straight hair up into a "natural"-looking hairstyle to look "down," while Coco hides her natural coils under a weave that looks like Sam's real hair in an effort to assimilate). We don't have many examples of how the Black Lives Matter movement has changed people on TV, but Sam's story shines a light on how some black millennials are affected by watching countless black people be murdered by the police.

    "The moment of being awakened to how you and others are being treated makes people react differently: some people keep their heads down; others are really burdened by it and make it a point to become part of the process of change," said Browning. "When I saw the film I could totally see myself in Sam. I call myself a pit bull puppy, I’m always the one who is trying to stand up for a friend or family, I’m always the one that will speak up. When I read the monologues they had for her I was like, this is next level, this is going to change my life."

    While Sam always knows the right thing to say on her provocative radio show, she often makes decisions or statements that frustrate viewers throughout the series (#TeamReggie). "In the film, it ends right after people find out that she’s the one who sent out the note for the party and then you just leave her," said Browning. "In the show you get to see a lot more of her consistency, she’s not just doing the radio show and that’s it. She’s got the follow-through even more, and she’s wrong even more, which I think people will like to see especially since she’s so loud. When you watch a show, you should not always love a character; you should not always have disdain for a character. That’s how people are in real life: you love and hate them — no one is perfect. If a character makes you feel all of those things, you’re enjoying what it’s meant to be giving you."

    Reggie Green (Marque Richardson)

    Adam Rose

    From spouting lines like "football is the only time black faces get celebrated on this campus – never mind their brains slowly getting turned to mush," to doing spoken word as a way to express and heal his emotions, Reggie Green could easily be the hotep man of your dreams (or nightmares). But Richardson brings a lovable humanity (and face) to the archetype that will have you ready to be the black queen he'll put nothing above – except the movement itself, of course.

    "Reggie is the guy I always wanted to play," said Richardson. "He’s strong, black, militant, and he didn’t take any shit whether he was right or wrong. He’s a badass. I don't see any other Reggies on TV right now."

    Midway through the season, Reggie finds himself at the center of the movement in a way most black men never hope to be — but always fear. "He’s trying to figure out if he’s a man or a movement, or both — or if it’s possible to be both," Richardson said. "When shit hits the fan on Episode 5 he’s not sure if he can continue to live up to the hype that he put on himself and that his parents put on him [Reggie's dad was a Black Panther]."

    Reggie's unraveling after Episode 5 shows viewers that even when a black person survives an incident with the police, they are never the same. It's an important and not-so-often-seen-on-TV look at the kind of PTD that come from being black in America, portrayed excellently by Richardson.

    Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell)

    Adam Rose

    Troy Fairbanks is the man on campus. He's fine, educated, and student body president. An Obama in the making. But there's no such thing as perfection, and as the season progresses, we get to see the chinks in Troy's armor.

    "Usually Troy's character is played by a white guy," Bell shared. "The black guy is usually the best friend or just the athlete. I love that the facade of Troy's perfection is challenged and chipped away at throughout the season. As interesting as perfection may sound, it’s not interesting to watch. Troy is more relatable having these inner turmoils about girls, and with his dad, and as popular as Troy is he doesn’t truly have friends. He doesn’t really fit in with the black caucus because he has this reputation to protect as a politician within the school. There’s a line where his dad says, 'You’re not them,' and in a lot of ways that pressure holds him back as a young person regardless of being black."

    The closest thing Troy does have to a friend is his roommate, Lionel. It's rare that we get to see a brotherhood form between a straight black man and a gay black man on TV. When Lionel comes out to Troy, Troy doesn't become awkward or treat him any differently. "Being able to present Troy as a male who is comfortable enough in his own masculinity, to not discriminate against Lionel, who happens to be gay, was a dope experience. I was honored to be able to portray that — it’s a rare opportunity especially within the black community," Bell said.

    Lionel Higgins (DeRon Horton)

    Adam Rose

    From the moment Lionel tells Silvio that he doesn't "prescribe to labels like gay or straight," it was clear he wasn't going to be the stereotypical gay black male character we've grown accustomed to seeing.

    "We don’t get to see the process of [gay black men] finding themselves in school," Horton said. "In the movie it's kind of surprising when he had his kiss at the party — on the show [his sexuality] is explained a lot more. The audience gets to go through it with him, from 'I don’t know what I like' to seeing him love and be loved in return by someone. You get to go inside his head and see his thoughts, fantasies, [and his online dating profile]."

    Like Bell, Horton is also really proud that a friendship like Troy and Lionel's exists on TV. Troy is the first of the main characters who Lionel finally gets the nerve to tell he's gay: "I'm into guys. Vaginas are like art in a museum: beautiful to look at but don't touch." Troy shrugs: "Agree to disagree. Now I gotta get these edges super crispy, because you motherfuckers are picky as shit." He then continues to cut Lionel's hair in their shared bathroom, wearing nothing but a towel. And that's it. He never treats him any differently.

    . "I think their relationship is super unique, because if more people had the audacity to talk about this with someone who they thought was going to be comfortable with it like Troy is, the world with be a much safer place," Horton said. "I was in that predicament in high school where a friend told me [he was gay] and I reacted the way Troy did and I think it took a lot of weight off his shoulders because we were to know I didn’t care either way because we were very good friends."

    Joelle Brooks (Ashley Blaine Featherson)

    Adam Rose

    If these characters all were a part of Black Twitter, Joelle would have the most followers. Whether she's spitting truths about Bill Cosby, Drake, Game of Thrones ("that shit with dragons set in the world where no one's black except the slaves?"), or the difficulty of trying to keep your figure during these trying times, Joelle is the voice of the people.

    "I think there’s something that’s really relatable about Joelle," said Featherson. "I like that she’s settled into who she is. There’s a confidence that Joelle naturally has that I find to be very attractive and really cool to play."

    Joelle shines in Season 1 as a friend. She's there for everyone whether she's trying to get Reggie to relax, Sam to cheer up, or even Gabe to have confidence in his and Sam's relationship. "Joelle’s the friend that everyone wants or needs in their life," said Featherson. "She’s practical, she’s funny, she’s loyal, and she’s empathetic."

    Her friendship with Sam is especially fun to watch: "Sam and Joelle’s friendship is aspirational," said Featherson. "Even when they have a moment, like when she found out about Gabe, I love how they resolve it. That could’ve gone on for episodes. Joelle could’ve walked around ignoring Sam, and Sam begging her to talk to her. But we get over it in a scene because that’s what real friendships are. We can be different and we can handle life differently and still love each other and help each other get through life. That’s what friendship is. I’m happy to portray two beautiful black girls who are dedicated to the sisterhood of their relationship."

    Please feel free to start the petition to get Joelle her own episode in *fingers crossed* Season 2 of Dear White People in the comments.

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